German Minister Files Criminal Complaint Against A Journalist Who Said Police Officers Are 'Trash People'
from the under-what-authority-exactly? dept
Germany’s speech laws are bad and they’re getting worse. Ignoring the rights the government has (apparently provisionally) extended to citizens, the recent years have seen a lot of claw-back by this same government as it seeks to regulate more kinds of speech, including the ultra vague “hate” variety.
The laws place more pressure on platforms to be responsive to “eye of the beholder”-type demands to remove “hate speech.” This, of course, leads to over-blocking. Every so often, a different branch of the government is asked to weigh in. And when it does, it finds the supposedly criminal content isn’t actually criminal.
As is the case with most vague speech regulations, collateral damage is expected. It’s so expected it almost appears to be acceptable to regulators. But even the vaguest of speech laws can’t explain what’s happening here.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced Sunday that he will launch a criminal complaint into the daily newspaper Tageszeitung (commonly referred to as taz) after it published a column criticizing the police.
Seehofer cited the anti-police violence in Stuttgart on Saturday night as an example of why such rhetoric should be cracked down on.
Citing anti-police protests as a reason to engage in the policing of speech police don’t like isn’t really going to endear the government to the people already angry at it for letting local law enforcement become the unaccountable mess it is. While the Interior Minister seems pretty upset journalists are mocking police officers, he apparently can’t be bothered to cite the violation he’s seeking to charge these journalists with.
Here’s what the journalists said in an article the newspaper has since apologized for publishing:
The article in question was published on June 15 with the headline “All cops are berufsunfähig (incapable of working)” — a play on a slogan used by groups protesting police violence — by columnist Hengameh Yaghoobirafah.
The article discussed the argument for abolition of the police and suggested that, since they are “trash people,” they instead could be “thrown in the landfill.”
All in all, pretty mild stuff, especially when placed in the context the Interior Minister chose to frame his frame-up of this journalist. Calling cops “garbage” is pretty low on the invective scale and there doesn’t appear to have been anything in the article suggesting people should engage in violence against cops, no matter how “trash” they are. When there are actual riots underway, it doesn’t make much sense to claim a few carelessly used words are worthy of a criminal prosecution. And there doesn’t appear to be anything in Germany’s speech laws that would justify a criminal complaint being brought.
Free speech isn’t all that free in Germany. But there are some protections in place for journalists. And nowhere in the laws does it say criticizing the government is a criminal offense. Maybe the Minister thinks this is “hate speech,” but that’s supposed to be reserved for the targeting of races, religions, and sexual orientation. It’s not supposed to protect the government from being called “trash.” Or maybe the Minister is going to claim it’s a form of terrorism as he stares deeply and thoughtfully into the rear view mirror containing a single violent riot that spun out of a massive police “drug check” at a party in Stuttgart.
Whatever the case is, it would seem it’s headed for a dismissal once a judge gets to take a look at it. But until that happens, a few journalists are going to see their lives upended because one government official has been offended by proxy. That’s a trash move, Minister.