Head of anti-Islam group to appear in court over hate speech

Lutz Bachmann, head of Germany's xenephobic and anti-Islamic group PEDIGA movement, will appear in court on hate speech charges

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Lutz Bachmann, founder of the far-right PEGIDA movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation) speaks during the PEGIDA rally on April 18, 2016 in Dresden.

The founder of Germany's xenophobic and anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement will appear in court on Tuesday on hate speech charges for labelling refugees "cattle" and "scum" on social media.

Lutz Bachmann, founder of the far-right "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident" movement, was charged in October with inciting racial hatred through a series of widely-shared Facebook posts.

The trial will be held under tight security in Dresden in the former communist east, the birthplace of PEGIDA, which bitterly opposes Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal refugee policy that brought more than a million asylum seekers to Germany last year.

The court said the 43-year-old's comments, which date back to 2014, also "disrupted public order" and constituted an "attack on the dignity" of refugees.

If found guilty, Bachmann could face between three months and five years in jail.

The comments were published in September 2014, shortly before PEGIDA started life as a xenophobic Facebook group.

The group initially drew just a few hundred supporters to demonstrations in Dresden before gaining strength, peaking with rallies of up to 25,000 people in early 2015.

Interest subsequently began to wane following wide coverage of Bachmann's overtly-racist comments and the surfacing of "selfies" in which he sported a Hitler-style moustache and hairstyle.

But the pendulum swung back a few months later, as tens of thousands of asylum-seekers, many fleeing war in mostly Muslim countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, poured into Germany each week.

Criminal invaders

Bachmann has repeatedly labelled refugees as "criminal invaders" while also railing against "traitor politicians" and the "liar press", whom he blames for jointly promoting multiculturalism.

A trained chef and head of a public relations agency, Bachmann has previously been convicted of drug, theft and assault charges.

In the late 1990s, he left Germany for South Africa to avoid a jail term, but was extradited two years later and served more than 12 months behind bars in Germany.

In the current heated political climate, the rightwing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party also made strong gains in recent state elections on the back of a protest vote against Merkel's open-door policy on refugees and gave speeches insulting Islam as a religion.

Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, accused the party of "riding a wave of Islamophobia".

"It is the first time since Hitler's Germany that there is a party which discredits and existentially threatens an entire religious community," he said.

The opposition Greens' senior lawmaker Konstantin von Notz accused the AfD of trying to "deliberately turn Islam into a target to capture voters".

Council of Europe chief Thorbjorn Jagland also described the AfD's statements as "contrary to European values".

Germany is home to four million Muslims, and many of the country's most recent arrivals adhere to the faith. 

TRTWorld and agencies