The disturbing case of Lisa F.
The alleged rape of a 13-year-old German girl of Russian origin is a cause celebre in European politics
An alleged rape of a 13-year-old Russian-German girl in Berlin is escalating tensions between the two countries, as Moscow accuses German authorities of a “politically correct” cover-up.
The girl, identified only as Lisa F, was reported missing on January 11 by her family, after disappearing on her way to school in the Marzahn district. The next day she reappeared, and according to her parents, said she was kidnapped by three men of Mediterranean appearance, held for 30 hours and repeatedly raped.
In her subsequent interrogation, however, the girl told conflicting stories to explain her overnight disappearance. “The fact is, according to the investigations of the state criminal police, there was neither abduction nor rape,” insisted a police spokesman.
On Tuesday, police confirmed it was investigating two men in their early twenties, German citizens of Turkish descent, on suspicion that they had consensual sexual contact with the girl. Under German law, this counts as sexual abuse, as she is not yet 14. However, police officials say it is still not clear what exactly occurred during her absence.
Rejecting the police assessment, the girl's family turned to the Russian media, which reported on the alleged rape as fact. A clip of the TV interview the girl's aunt gave Russia's state-owned Channel One spread across social media, alongside comments condemning the inaction of the police and the restrained coverage by the “mainstream media”. By Monday morning, the video had been viewed over 800,000 times.
Additional Russian-language reports presented proof of the police's passivity by emphasizing the online calls for vigilantism and by showing a YouTube clip of a man, apparently a Turk, boasting of a rape he committed – a recording that dates back to 2009. The reports also mentioned the mass sexual assaults across Germany on New Year's eve and included videos of the attacks on women at Cairo's Tahrir square.
“In Germany and in Sweden, residents are regularly raped by refugees,” the Russian pro-Kremlin channel NTV was quoted as saying, “but the local authorities and police hide these facts and do not open criminal investigations.”
Demonstrations of Russian-speakers and neo-Nazis
The reports have caused an uproar among Germany's Russian-speaking minority, the second largest in the country. Although officials in the Russian-German community have urged the public not to jump to conclusions, over the weekend thousands demonstrated in several cities, waving signs saying “We're against the refugees,” “Lisa we're with you” and “hands off me and my child.”
In Berlin, 700 people, among them well-known right-wing extremists, gathered in front of the Chancellery building, calling for Angela Merkel's resignation. Another demonstration was organized in Marzahn, a known far-right stronghold, by the neo-Nazi party NPD.
A lawyer representing Lisa's family insisted her relatives enlisted the help of foreign press only after the police told them directly that “we won't investigate.”
On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov unexpectedly intervened in the controversy. He addressed the case in his annual press conference, usually devoted to the country's top agenda, and stated that it is “absolutely clear that the girl had not voluntarily been gone for 30 hours.”
Calling the victim “our Lisa,” he expressed hope that the problems relating to the migration crisis will not be “swept under the carpet” and that reality will not be “painted politically correct” by German authorities for domestic political reasons. Lavrov also promised the family Russia's assistance in ensuring that “truth will prevail.”
“I am very puzzled by this interference from Moscow in an ongoing investigation,” Berlin's Interior Minister Frank Henkel said in response. “The allegation that the investigating authorities would hide something won't become more true if constantly repeated.”
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier fended off Russia's allegations, saying there is no justification for this case ”to be used for political propaganda and to influence and fuel an already difficult internal German migration debate.” During a press conference on Wednesday, government spokesman Steffen Seibert also protested this “political instrumentalization.”
In newspapers, the reactions are more severe. “Putin tries to incite German Russians,” declared an op-ed in the daily Die Welt, which described Lavrov brazenness as “ghastly” and called on the federal government to put a stop to Russia's invisible hand.
Others also pointed to the similarity in the signs and slogans chanted by protesters as evidence of an organized propaganda campaign.
“The Kremlin media is deliberately trying to pour oil on the fire in the German domestic politics dispute concerning the refugee policy,” accused the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine, “and to incite those whose trust in politics, police and media is already low.”
By reinforcing nationalist forces, suggested another commentator for the newspaper, President Putin hopes to weaken the EU.
“This was explicitly initiated from the very top,” agreed Stefan Meister, a Russia expert from The German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).
Polina Garaev is i24news' correspondent in Germany