First Day of Historic Trial: German Court Adjourns Neo-Nazi Case Until May 14

Defiant in pose: Defendant Beate Zschäpe keeps her arms cross in court on Monday. Zoom
REUTERS

Defiant in pose: Defendant Beate Zschäpe keeps her arms cross in court on Monday.

Germany's biggest neo-Nazi trial opened on Monday in the glare of the media as the main defendant, neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe, faced charges of complicity in a spate of racially motivated murders. But in the sign of how drawn-out the trial is likely to be, it was adjourned after her lawyers claimed the judge is biased.

The Munich court handling the historic trial of neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe on Monday adjourned proceedings until May 14 after her lawyers accused the presiding judge of being biased because he had ordered them to be frisked for weapons before entering the courtroom. Members of the prosecution weren't subjected to searches.

The adjournment on the first day is a fresh indication that the trial, which is being closely watched in Germany and abroad, especially in Turkey where most of the victims came from, will be lengthy and complex. The prosecution didn't even get a chance to read out the charges.

Zschäpe, 38, dubbed the "Nazi bride" in the German media, is believed to be the sole surviving member of the National Socialist Undergroundterrorist group that claimed responsibility in 2011 for murdering nine immigrants, eight of them of Turkish descent and one Greek man, as well as a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007.

The other two members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, committed suicide in November 2011 after a botched bank robbery. Only after that did their involvement in the killings come to light.

Shortly after the trial started, Zschäpe's lawyers filed a motion claiming that judge Manfred Götzl was unfit to run proceedings because the weapons searches placed them under suspicion of "being involved in forbidden and criminal actions."

The judge then ordered the adjournment to consider their motion, along with another motion brought by a co-defendant.

The police never seriously considered that the motive may be racismand instead suspected that the victims, who included a flower seller, a grocer and a part-time tailor, themselves had links with criminal gangs.

The case has alarmed the country's 3 million people of Turkish descent and has been a huge embarrassment to Germany because of the catalogue of errors made by the police and security authorities that exposed them to accusations of institutional racism and of having been blind to the threat of right-wing extremism.

Last month, Germany apologized for those errors at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, describing the murders as "without a doubt one of the worst human rights violations in Germany in the last decade."

Chief Prosecutor Herbert Diemer warned on Monday against expecting too much of the trial. "The court proceedings are focused on the crimes and on the people charged with those crimes," he told a news conference. "It cannot be the aim of the trial to clear up possible mistakes made in past investigations and proceedings."

Zschäpe Silent But Defiant

Zschäpe walked into the courtroom smartly dressed in a white blouse and black blazer, with her arms crossed defiantly. She wasn't handcuffed and quickly turned her back on the photographers and film cameras, and on the relatives of the victims desperate finally to see justive done. She chatted quietly with her three lawyers and seemed relaxed.

Four alleged accomplices, all of them committed neo-Nazis, are also in the dock in the mammoth trial in which over 600 witnesses will be called to testify. A total of 84 court days have been slated but that may not be enough. Some observers are saying the trial could last more than two years.

One of the defendants, who can be named only as Andre E. due to German privacy laws, has the words, "Die Jew Die" tattooed on his stomach.

"With its historical, social and political dimensions, the NSU trial is one of the most significant of postwar German history," lawyers for the family of the first victim, flower seller Enver Simsek, said in a statement.

Photo Gallery

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Photo Gallery: Germany's Biggest Neo-Nazi Trial Begins
'Why Were the Authorities Blind?'

Some 500 police officers were deployed outside the courthouse -- where several hundred demonstrators, some waving the Turkish flag, demanded that justice finally be done, 13 years after the first victim, Simsek, was murdered in cold blood. Some held up photos of the victims. One banner read "Why were the authorities blind?"

The chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, Kenan Kolat, said the defendants should get life in prison. "This is a historic trial. It's not enough to convict the accused," Kolat told Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Monday. "We hope that the maximum sentences will be imposed. And the maximum sentence is life."

The trial start was delayed by almost three weeks because of controversy over the allocation of seats for the media. In the first round, no Turkish news organization obtained a press pass, which caused an uproar that threatened to further tarnish Germany's reputation.

Every aspect of the case is proving to be sensitive, including the names of Zschäpe's defense lawyers. Both the German and British press have remarked on the fact that the the alleged NSU member is being defended by Wolfgang Stahl, Wolfgang Heer and Anja Sturm, surnames that evoke German Nazi history -- although none of the lawyers are of a far-right political persuasion.

However, the lawyer representing the defendant Ralf Wohlleben, Nicole Schneiders, used to have a regional leadership post in the far-right National Democratic Party. Wohlleben, 38, stands accused of having provided the NSU with the murder weapon -- a Ceska Browning pistol used in all the killings.

cro -- with wire reports

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1. Too much pressure for a fair trial?
Inglenda2 05/06/2013
Whether we like it or not, the Munich court handling the historic trial of neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe had little chance but to adjourn the proceedings. The accusation, that the presiding judge was biased, is not without reason. The danger that weapons be smuggled into the courtroom exists, but is more likely to come from either the extremists from the left, or even fanatic Islamists who are unable to respect, possibly do not understand, the German form of justice. The very fact that Ms. Zschape has already been dubbed the "Nazi bride" in the German media, shows how, at least from the side of the journalists, a verdict has already taken place. Being innocent, until proved guilty, would seem invalid for anybody who is suspected of having right-wing tendencies in this country. Thereby there has to date been no proof provided, that the two other members of the NSU were guilty of the murders under investigation, or that they committed suicide. Although it is quite probable that these crimes were committed by the trio, there is no right for anybody to pre-empt the verdict of a court of law. All too often, even persons of high integrity have been hounded down by an over zealous media, which cannot wait until justice is done and often, in the process, are not very exact in the way they report. One very well case, was that of a Bishop who used the English word “doubt,” but in the world press this was changed to “deny.” This might appear at first glance to be just the use of a similar expression, but in the English language, has the effect of changing a personal opinion into a statement of fact. Such inaccuracies, whether performed intentionally or not, have no place in a matter so serious as the accusation concerning a believed terrorist group, which is held by many for being responsible for the murder of nine immigrants, eight of them of Turkish descent and one Greek man, as well as a German policewoman. The embarrassment to Germany because of this case has certainly not been lessened by the number of errors made by the security authorities, nevertheless, the media must take the most blame for the negative impression which many foreigners now have about German juridical procedures. Compared with the legal structures within the countries where most of the victims have their family origins, German courts are of exemplary standards. It was quite correct for Chief Prosecutor Herbert Diemer to warn against expecting too much of the trial. "The court proceedings are focused on the crimes and on the people charged with those crimes. It cannot be the aim of the trial to clear up possible mistakes made in past investigations and proceedings." Ms. Zschäpe may be a target of hate, to the relatives of the victims desperate finally to see justice done, but until she is proved guilty – and that is not at all certain yet – she has little reason not to be relaxed. What perhaps is most annoying, is the fact that even if found to be guilty, no real punishment can be expected. Life in a German prison has no relationship to the crimes committed. Apart from being forced to live within a restricted area, the hardships are in no way to comparable with the suffering of those who have been effected by the crimes. Perhaps the return of forced labour would not be such a bad idea, in cases where a complete disrespect of human life has been shown by the law-breaker.
2. Freedom Chained
Eleos 05/08/2013
There is no real democracy or right of free speech in Germany. The constitution was written under massive coercion from the occupying powers, and the members of the constituent assembly who wrote it were chosen from those who had suffered under National Socialism. It does not allow the natural symmetry between right and left. There are people in prison for questioning the accuracy of the received opinion on certain historical events. Some of those who believe they are denied the basic right to express sincerely held opinions will go to extreme measures to confront and shock a system they see as profoundly unfair and demeaning.
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