German anti-Muslim group founder in court over hate speech

BERLIN (Reuters) The co-founder of Germany’s anti-Islam PEGIDA group arrived at a Dresden court for his trial on incitement charges wearing a rectangular black strip obscuring his eyes in a mocking gesture towards the German media and privacy rules.

Lutz Bachmann, a 43-year-old with drugs and burglary convictions, is charged over sending social media posts in which he called refugees “cattle,” “garbage” and “scumbags.” He says he is not racist.

Bachmann’s defense lawyer Katja Reichel told the court on Tuesday (April 19) her client rejected all charges, arguing it was not he who had written the comments on his Facebook page.

Bachmann, wearing the dark strip across his eyes like sunglasses, appeared to be taking a swipe at the German media for double-standards and prejudging him. In Germany, photo-editors normally protect the identity of suspects on trial by placing a black bar across their faces in the print media.

PEGIDA, short for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, forced itself onto Germany’s political agenda in 2014 with its anti-immigrant rallies that started in the eastern city of Dresden and spread to several other cities.

Bachmann, who briefly quit as leader of PEGIDA last year after pictures were printed of him posing with a Hitler mustache and haircut, shook hands outside the court with a handful of supporters, some holding Germany flags and placards.

One read: “We want a Germany out of the euro, out of the European Union, out of NATO and with true democracy.” Another read: “(Chancellor Angela) Merkel to court!”

He could face a prison term of between three months and five years, prosecutors said.

“We accuse the defendant of insulting asylum seekers and refugees in a publicly accessible Facebook comment. In addition, he is said to have denied them an equal life in Germany,” said state prosecutor Lorenz Haase.

At its height, just over a year ago, PEGIDA‘s twilight rallies drew tens of thousands of supporters, with many waving Germany flags and chanting xenophobic slogans. A rally on Dresden on Monday night drew about 3,000 people, German media reported.

Despite the influx of over 1 million migrants to Germany last year, the grassroots movement’s appeal has waned. Support has shifted to the anti-immigrant right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) which has won seats in eight regional assemblies.

However, mainstream politicians are worried about right-wing attacks on migrants. Earlier, German police near Dresden arrested five people they suspect of forming a far-right militant group and preparing attacks on asylum seekers using explosives.