Germany’s crackdown on free speech is out of control

The conviction of an AfD influencer is an outrageous attack on democracy.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl
Germany Correspondent

Topics Free Speech World

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A German appeals court has upheld an Alternative for Germany (AfD) member’s conviction for ‘incitement to hatred’, for social-media posts from 2021. Last week, Marie-Thérèse Kaiser, a 27-year-old activist and social-media influencer, was given a criminal record and a fine of €6,000.

Kaiser has since claimed that the offending posts on social media, which asserted that Afghan immigrants are liable to commit sexual violence against women and girls, were based on official figures. Her claim went viral. It even prompted Elon Musk to wonder last week if Kaiser had been punished merely for ‘repeating accurate government statistics’. X users across the world shared his concern.

Kaiser was being disingenuous, however. The original offence took place in August 2021. She was responding to the mayor of Hamburg’s pledge to guarantee refuge for Afghans who had worked for the German army. She claimed that the mayor was creating a ‘welcoming culture for gang rape’. Then, in a further post, she warned of the dangers of uncontrolled migration, and talked of the threat of sexual violence posed by ‘culturally alien masses’.

Kaiser’s posts weren’t simply repeating government statistics. They were a vile and hysterical response to the Hamburg mayor’s perfectly reasonable call for our Afghan allies to be allowed entry into Germany. The vast majority of the German public shared the views of the mayor.

Nevertheless, Kaiser’s conviction is still an outrageous attack on free speech. It shows just how repressive Germany’s ‘incitement to hatred’ law can be. Introduced in the postwar era as a response to Nazi anti-Semitism, the law’s stated aim is to punish those who defame, malign or incite violence against a group on account of their religion, ethnicity and race. In recent years, this law has been used as a stick with which to beat right-wing populists and other critics of state policy.

Kaiser is just one among many to have fallen foul of it. In the past few weeks, Björn Höcke, the AfD leader of Thuringia, has been on trial for inciting hatred after he ended a 2021 speech with the slogan ‘everything for Germany’ – a phrase once used by Nazi stormtroopers.

Another AfD politician was acquitted on two charges of incitement earlier this month, after comparing the government’s restrictions on people who refused the Covid vaccine to the treatment of Jews in the 1930s. In this case, the court ruled that his statement was covered by the right to freedom of expression.

Kaiser’s case stands out, however. When justifying the conviction, the state attorney claimed that Kaiser had a ‘role-model function’ (Vorbildfunktion). A former model, Kaiser is a social-media influencer with tens of thousands of mainly young followers. She is also the assistant to the leader of the AfD’s parliamentary group. As such, she plays a crucial role in the party’s social-media strategy. It seems it wasn’t just Kaiser’s words that were the problem; it was also the fact that she has a large, youthful following.

It is Kaiser’s popularity among young people that clearly worries the German establishment. Indeed, just days before her appeals-court hearing, the publication of a major study into the views and attitudes of German youth sent shockwaves through parts of the commentariat. It revealed that 22 per cent of 14- to 29-year-olds said that they would vote for the AfD. This confirmed a trend evident in recent local elections, where many first-time voters have been opting for the AfD. Many among Germany’s media and political class had assumed that right-wing populism was the preserve of older generations. But it is now clearly gaining traction among a much younger cohort, too.

Germany’s political establishment has responded in typically clumsy and authoritarian fashion. Instead of trying to implement policies that people might actually support, it has taken to cracking down on its political rivals. Calls to ban the AfD are getting louder among the elites, and now social-media influencers are being fined for expressing unsavoury views. If Germany’s governing class really wants to win young people over, a crackdown on influencers is not the way to do it.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl is spiked’s Germany correspondent.

Picture by: X.

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Topics Free Speech World


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