Germany: Dismay over Release of Extremist Attackers

The trial of four neo-Nazis charged of attacking a group of actors took an unexpected turn on Wednesday, when a district court released them from custody on the basis of insufficient evidence. Two of the victims have decided to move out of town.

The victims of a summer neo-Nazi attack were dealt a shocking blow on Wednesday, when those charged with the offense were released from custody. On the ninth day of hearings, all four of the accused men between the ages of 22 and 29, were allowed to walk free from the district court in Magdeburg.

On June 9, 14 actors and dancers from the Nordharzer Städtebund Theater in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt were attacked (more…) by a group of neo-Nazis. The assault happened late at night after the group had been celebrating their premiere of the musical “Rocky Horror Show” in a pub in the town of Halberstadt, not far from Magdeburg. The case drew widespread public attention, as the victims were all European and Caucasian — making them atypical targets for neo-Nazis.

On Wednesday, three arrest warrants were dismissed and the warrant against the forth neo-Nazi, who had offered a partial confession at the beginning of the trial, was suspended.

After two months of negotiations, the victims’ lawyers fear that serious errors and omissions are hindering a thorough investigation. The fact that the police took so long to arrive at the scene of the crime is now distorting the legal proceedings, they say.

“There is a real danger that the case won’t be solved,” joint plaintiff Stephan Martin told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung on Thursday, referring in particular to the police response to the crime. The actors claim that they were attacked by eight to 10 neo-Nazis, only four of which are now on trial. Despite pleas by the actors, the first two policemen to arrive at the scene paid no attention to the attackers, who initially remained within sight.

Martin believes that the police investigated the case hastily in an attempt to compensate for their initial failures, which drew much public criticism. “It’s clear that the investigation was carried out sloppily, in the hopes of instant results.” According to an organisation that represents victims’ interests, one of the actresses had identified an additional attacker in a police photograph but he was not among those on trial.

The victims’ lawyers claim that the judge Holger Selig’s dismission of the state prosecutor’s charge of complicity at the outset of the trial virtually ruled out the possibility of conviction. “That meant that every single action has to be proven individually,” said Martin. Witnesses were unable to deliver adequate evidence against three of those charged. Had the allegation of complicity been admitted, the presence of the three at the crime would have sufficed.

The repeal of the arrest warrants is thought to indicate how the case will end. Court spokesman Christian Löffler said that a conviction now looks highly unlikely.

The fourth suspect, a 22-year-old, whose warrant was suspended, had written a letter to his wife from custody, asking her to come up with false witnesses. “He has long since admitted that this was stupid,” said lead state prosecutor Harald Seehorsch in defense of the young man’s acquittal.

The trial will continue on December 19th, with further witnesses set to take the stand. Andre Bu”cker, artistic director of the Nordharzer Städtebund Theater is appalled by the court’s decision. He told radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that the trial had been a farce from the beginning. Two of the victims have announced their resignation, “because they don’t want to live in this city anymore.” Brücker characterized the decision as a slap in the face of creative initiatives to combat the serious problem of neo-Nazism in Halberstadt.

The case is one of several that suggest that neo-Nazism in the former East German state has reached alarming proportions. The chief of police of Saxony-Anhalt was forced to resign (more…) last month after he was proven to have fudged statistics on racially-motivated crimes in his state. Frank Hüttemann had claimed that the number of neo-Nazi attacks had been halved in the first half of the year while state interior ministry statistics showed that these figures had risen by more than a quarter in the first nine months of the year.

The Saxony-Anhalt police is currently being investigated (more…) by a state parliamentary committee for its failure to combat neo-Nazi activity. One of the six cases under investigation is the incident in Halberstadt.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday December 8, 2007.
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