German police in hot water after two days of right-wing Chemnitz riots
Police in the East German state of Saxony are in hot water after two days of far-right riots in the city of Chemnitz. Accused of failing to rein in the extremist mob that swept the city in protest over the deadly stabbing of a German national, police officers are now the subject of a criminal investigation.
German authorities have launched an official inquiry to ascertain how far-right extremists managed to obtain an arrest warrant of a foreigner suspected of the killing that sparked the riots.
The 35-year-old German, Daniel H., was stabbed during a brawl outside a street festival in Chemnitz in the early hours of Sunday. Two others, ages 33 and 38, sustained serious injuries. Two suspects, a 23-year-old Syrian and a 22-year-old Iraqi, were arrested at the scene and remain in custody.
Police were reluctant to release additional details on the circumstance of the crime, stressing that the background remains unknown, but the arrest warrant of the Iraqi young man, suspected of manslaughter, had somehow been leaked online.
The news of the arrests were spread among far-right circles by the right-wing citizens’ movement Pro Chemnitz, a local chapter of the populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) and PEGIDA co-founder Lutz Bachmann.
The partially blackened document, whose authenticity was confirmed by the police, mentioned the details of the crime, personal information of the alleged perpetrator, the full name of the victim and the name of the judge.
On Tuesday, the initiative Pro Chemnitz complained on its Facebook page that the post containing the leaked documented was deleted by the “internet police” for violating Facebook’s guidelines. However, an uncensored version of the warrant is still available on site linked to right-wing activists.
The death of Daniel H. sparked calls on social media to protest, causing thousands of far-right supporters to take to the streets Sunday and Monday evening. The marchers clashed with police forces and left-wing counter-demonstrators, throwing rocks and firecrackers. The rightist mob also attacked passersby of foreign appearance.
Police estimated that some 6,000 right-wing protesters and around 1,000 counter-protesters took part in the rally Monday. Two police officers, nine far-right demonstrators and nine counter-protesters were injured in the clashes. Authorities are also investigating at least ten men who were filmed by the police making the illegal Nazi salute during the events.
Saxony police admitted Monday to having been overwhelmed by the number of demonstrators after expecting only a few hundred would show up. Only 591 police officers were present at the rally on Monday. Now, criticism over the leaked warrant is adding to the flak.
“It cannot be that police officers think they can leak things, even though they know that they are committing a crime,” stressed Saxony's Deputy Prime Minister Martin Dulig, calling it a scandal. It must be made clear that "certain things in the police force are no longer tolerated,” he told public broadcaster MDR.
Also Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Saxony's Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer condemned the publication of the warrant. It is a criminal offense, emphasized Kretschmer, promising to “clear up the matter.”
Speaking to German media, Kretschmer also blamed “fake news” for fueling the riots. Police had to deny several rumors which spread online, including that the victim was stabbed for coming to the aid of a woman being harassed, and that the other man had died as the result of the fight.
“We have to acknowledge that mobilization on the internet was stronger [this time] than in the past,” Kretschmer said. The strong sentiment felt among protesters “was based on xenophobic comments, false information and conspiracy theories... it was based on fake news.”
The leak is only the latest in a string of incidents to raise concern over links between Saxony police and the far-right scene. The state’s police department already came under fire this month after officers prevented a TV crew of the public broadcaster ZDF from filming at a rally in Dresden by the anti-migrant movement PEGIDA.
Authorities also had to fight off allegations that their ranks have been infiltrated by far-right elements, after it was further revealed that a supporter of the movement, who harassed the journalists and complained about them to police, was himself an employee of Saxony police.
“The fact that state police employees are marching with PEGIDA is not tolerable, as far as I'm concerned,” said one lawmaker, of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).
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