Germany’s Bundestag has approved a new law imposing a prison sentence of up to three years for damaging or destroying a European Union flag, in an effort to curb “hate”.
The national parliament voted on Thursday to amend the criminal code to protect the European Union flag from being destroyed, damaged, or defaced. Punishments for contraventions of the law range from a fine or even a prison sentence of up to three years.
The vote follows months of debate on the law, and a previous session in parliament on protecting the EU flag from physical expressions of criticism in January. Reporting at the time, Germany’s Deutsche Welle noted strong controversy around the subject, with some members insisting the burning of flags is a legitimate form of political speech and to ban it would be a curb on freedom of expression.
Various parties opposed the proposal at the time, including Die Linke (The Left Party), and the populist-right Alternative fur Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD) who insisted that as the European Union is not a state, it does not deserve to be protected as one. Fabian Jacobi of the AfD said the real purpose of the law was to make “citizens to think twice about whether they dared to publicly criticize the EU”, the report stated.
In the end, only the AfD voted against the ban, citing “excessive interference with freedom of expression”.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) August 7, 2015
Previously it had been a crime to burn a publicly displayed flag if, for instance, a foreign embassy was attacked. But if a private individual purchased a flag and set fire to it, that would not be a problem — until now.
Speaking in support of the change, Angela Merkel’s justice minister Christine Lambrecht said burning a flag could not be a peaceful protest, and therefore should not be protected. Quite the opposite, in fact, as she said flag burning fuels “hatred, anger and aggression” and “hurts the feelings of many people”, reports German newspaper Die Presse.
The report notes the change of the law closes a loophole in the German penal code, and means the EU flag now has equal protection to national flags.
These laws are part of a suite of laws in Germany where the government claims a monopoly on organising relations with foreign nations, with private citizens banned from a range of actions, ranging from burning flags to even insulting foreign politicians.
This has been used — and some have claimed, abused — by the German government in recent years against even artists who have satirised foreign leaders. Breitbart London reported in 2016 on the curious case of German television comedian Jan Böhmermann, who used his show to take aim at Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, mocking the Islamist for his treatment of journalists and minorities.
The Turkish government was so outraged by the comedian’s behaviour that the German ambassador was summoned and demands Germany prosecute the comedian made.
The poem was banned in Germany that year after a court found just six of its 26 lines were legal, and Böhmermann faced up to five years in prison under paragraph 103 of the German criminal code, which forbids insulting a foreign head of state or diplomat, when the Merkel government gave the nod for the prosecution to proceed.
A counter case by the comedian claiming that his treatment amounted to state persecution was thrown out by a judge in 2019.
The banned work, entitled Defamation Poem, translates into English as:
Stupid as fuck, cowardly and uptight,
Is Erdogan, the president,
His gob smells of bad döner,
Even a pig’s fart smells better,
He’s the man who hits girls,
While wearing a rubber mask,
But goat-fucking he likes the best,
And having minorities repressed,
While watching kiddie porn,
And even at night, instead of sleep,
It’s time for fellatio with a hundred sheep,
Yep, Erdogan is definitely
The president with a tiny dick,
Every Turk will tell you all,
The stupid fool has wrinkly balls,
From Ankara to Istanbul,
They all know the man is gay,
Perverted, louse-infested, a zoophile,
Recep Fritzl Priklopil
Head as empty as his balls,
Of every gang-bang party he’s the star,
Till his cock burns when he has a piss,
That’s Recep Erdogan,
The Turkish president.