A far-right protester has been convicted of hate speech for illegally giving the stiff-armed “heil Hitler” salute at a rally early this month in the eastern German town of Chemnitz, reported Deutsche-Welle.
The 33-year-old protester was sentenced to an eight-month suspended sentence with three years probation and fined $2,300 for hate speech and attempted assault of a law enforcement officer who’d approached him after he gave the Nazi salute. Prosecutors had sought a one-year sentence, according to Agence France Presse.
Early this month, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party and the Islamophobic Pegida street movement staged a series of anti-immigrant protests, some of which erupted into the worst far-right German violence in decades, Reuters reports.
The protests began in late August after a Syrian and Iranian migrant allegedly stabbed a German man to death in Chemnitz. Those protests triggered others, as well as counter-protests, and several people have been injured in clashes or beaten by neo-Nazis.
Haunted by its Nazi past, Germany has strictly prohibited the Nazi salute, swastikas and other Nazi symbols in public, labeling them hate speech. People can face up to three years in prison for breaking the law.
“There were a couple of aggressive idiots among the demonstrators who were yelling ‘foreigners out’ and who gave the Hitler salute, nobody disputes that,” AfD leader Alexander Gauland said, according to the Times of Israel. But he said it was a “minority” that shouldn’t be used to “delegitimize” the protests.
Martin Schulz, a Social Democrat, said Gauland’s comments were reminiscent of the Nazi era. “Similar rhetoric has been heard in this house before,” he said.
The Chemnitz district court is fast-tracking criminal hearings for those charged with violating hate speech laws. Another trial is set for Friday.
Intriguingly, an anti-Nazi art exhibit in Chemnitz, titled “The Wolves Are Back,” features 10 vicious-looking bronze wolves giving the Nazi salute. Artist Rainer Opolka says the work is intended to protest the “growing hatred” in Chemnitz.
The wolves are stationed in front of Chemnitz’s downtown Karl Marx statue, along with signs describing right-wing extremism as “the mother of all problems,” the BBC reported.
The wolves have also been displayed in Berlin, Dresden and outside a court in Munich where, in July, a female neo-Nazi gang member was found guilty of 10 racially motivated murders.