14:06 GMT +316 October 2019
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    Lutz Bachman, co-founder of German right-wing populist movement Pegida.

    Pegida Leader Faces Trial for Allegedly Calling Refugees 'Scumbags'

    © AFP 2019 / Oliver Berg
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    Lutz Bachman - the founder of Germany's far-right, anti-Islam movement Pegida - has gone on trial in Dresden, facing charges for insulting migrants. Bachman is alleged to have referred to refugees as "cattle", "scumbags" and "filth" in Facebook posts during 2015.

    Bachman founded the anti-Islam organization Pegida — Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West — during October 2014.

    The group sought to capitalize on far-right resistance towards immigration, focusing on Muslims in particular. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed disapproval towards Pegida, saying that its leaders "have prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts."

    Whilst Pegida has enjoyed increased support since its inception, the continued growth of the far-right in German politics has begun to shift — favoring the more moderate presentation of parties like the AfD, whose antagonistic positions on issues like immigration boast a more acceptable public face. 

    The current court case is not the first time that Lutz Bachman has courted controversy. In 2015, he was forced temporarily to resign as Pegida's Chairman after a photograph emerged of him with a Hitler mustache. Bachman also has numerous criminal records for drunk driving, assault and no less than 16 burglaries. 

    A flag reading Islamists not welcome flies among protestors from the PEGIDA movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) attend a rally in Leipzig on January 11, 2016
    © AFP 2019 / TOBIAS SCHWARZ
    A flag reading "Islamists not welcome" flies among protestors from the PEGIDA movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) attend a rally in Leipzig on January 11, 2016

    Bachman denies the hate speech charges, and has been accused of using the trial as an opportunity for publicity; arriving as he did, wearing a pair of sunglasses that were modified to resemble a censorship block over his eyes.

    The stunt was apparently coordinated with Pegida supporters, many of whom attended the trial wearing similarly modified sunglasses — they were warned against disrupting proceedings by the court warden though, after applauding Lutz Bachman on his arrival. 

    Despite the protests of Bachman's supporters, Germany has a positive record in terms of censorship, consistently ranking in the top 20 of the Press Freedom Index's "most free countries." 

    Section 130 of Germany's Strafgesetzbuch (criminal code) cites the "incitement of popular hatred" (Volksverhetzung) as an offense. 

    It prohibits malicious slurs or defamatory statements against sections of the population, which could potentially violate their constitutionally protected human dignity. 

    The court said that the comments made by Bachman were an "attack on the dignity" of refugees, and "disrupted public order." Prosecutors say that he could face jail for anything between 3 months and 5 years if found guilty.

    Related:

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    Surge in Support for Germany’s AfD Party Shows Cracks in Refugee Policy
    Dozens Anti-Islamization Pegida Activists Arrested Across Europe
    Tags:
    anti-immigration protests, migrant crisis, politics, refugees, Pegida, Lutz Bachmann, Germany
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