May 21st, 2024

German court convicts prominent far-right politician for using a Nazi slogan, imposes a fine

By The Associated Press on May 14, 2024.

HALLE, Germany (AP) – A court on Tuesday convicted one of the best-known figures in the far-right Alternative for Germany party of using a Nazi slogan in a speech and ordered him to pay a fine.

The verdict in Björn Höcke’s trial comes months before a regional election in the eastern state of Thuringia in which he plans to run for the governor’s job.

The state court in the eastern city of Halle convicted Höcke of using symbols of an unconstitutional organization, German news agency dpa reported. It imposed a fine totaling 13,000 euros (about $14,000).

The charge can carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Prosecutors had sought a six-month suspended sentence, while defense lawyers argued for acquittal.

The case centered on a speech in Merseburg in May 2021 in which Höcke used the phrase “Everything for Germany!” Prosecutors contended he was aware of its origin as a slogan of the Nazis’ SA stormtroopers, but Höcke has argued that it is an “everyday saying.”

He testified at the trial that he is “completely innocent.” The former history teacher described himself as a “law-abiding citizen.”

The 52-year-old Höcke is an influential figure on the hard right of Alternative for Germany, or AfD.

He has led the AfD’s regional branch in Thuringia since 2013, the year the party was founded, and is due to lead its campaign in a state election set for Sept. 1.

He once called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame” and called for Germany to perform a “180-degree turn” in how it remembers its past. A party tribunal in 2018 rejected a bid to have him expelled.

Prosecutor Benedikt Bernzen argued in Tuesday’s closing arguments that Höcke had used Nazi vocabulary “strategically and systematically” in the past.

Höcke accused prosecutors of not looking for exonerating circumstances and argued that freedom of opinion is limited in Germany.

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