Freedom of speech finally vindicated

Freedom of speech finally vindicated


Written by: Sabine Schiffer

The prosecutor has withdrawn an appeal against Dr Sabine Schiffer’s acquittal in Germany for slandering a police officer.

On 24 March 2010, Dr Sabine Schiffer, an anti-racist academic and Director of the Institute for Media Responsibility in Erlangen, was acquitted of slander of a police officer. She had been prosecuted for her suggestion that institutional neglect could have been a factor in the murder of Marwa el-Sherbini in a Dresden courtroom in July 2009. El-Sherbini was repeatedly stabbed as she testified against a known racist who had racially abused her. In the ensuing chaos, a police officer shot her husband in the leg in the belief that he was the perpetrator (See ‘Germany: Freedom to speak on racism under threat’, IRR News, 23 February 2010, and ‘Freedom of speech upheld for German academic’, IRR News, 31 March 2010.)

Dr Schiffer’s prosecution had brought together some of Germany’s foremost academics, journalists, peace campaigners, trades unionists and politicians, who formed the Action Group Against Racism and for Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom (Aktionsbündnis gegen Rassismus und für Meinungs-und Wissenschaftsfreiheit).

After her acquittal in March, the prosecutor appealed, prolonging her ordeal. But just before the hearing of the appeal (due to take place on 13 October 2010), the prosecutor’s appeal was withdrawn. Here we reproduce Dr Schiffer’s statement, in which she reminds readers that important questions about the murder have never been answered.

Statement of Dr. Sabine Schiffer on the Termination of the Appellate Proceedings by the Nuremberg Attorney General’s Office:

Important Questions, Not Slander

I would like to express both my relief and my gratitude – for the broad base of support that I found during the attempts of the Nuremberg-Fürth Office of Public Prosecutions to criminalise me. I have emerged moved and heartened from this ordeal, which has now ended thanks to the withdrawal of the appeal by the Nuremberg Attorney General’s Office. The now final acquittal handed down by the Erlangen Municipal Court on 24 March 2010 is an encouraging signal to all those who do their civic duty and articulate questions of public importance. I hope that this also encourages colleagues … who did, and continue to do, their duty as members of the Fourth Power to act as a check on state institutions – and found themselves convicted of “slander” as a result.

It does, however, leave a bitter taste that the termination of the proceedings against me also serves to take the remaining unanswered questions. Accordingly, I would like to list the most important issues once again below:

1. How did the perpetrator come into possession of the murder weapon, a Japanese combat knife?

2. What was found during the search of his residence and computer? With whom was he in contact? What websites did he visit?

3. Why was the hate-filled letter of the murderer not viewed as a threat to Marwa El-Sherbini prior to 1 July 2009? Was it classified as incitement, and, if so, was the author of the letter prosecuted for that?

4. Why did the letter not give reason to implement security measures that are otherwise standard during the trial, such as searches at the entrance or the presence of a member of the Judicial Police in the courtroom?

5. Why were no measures taken to protect the witness (El-Sherbini), who, it should additionally be noted, should not have had to appear in court at all?

6. Why did neither the court personnel present at the site, nor her attorney, attempt to protect her from the attack before she was stabbed more than a dozen times? Why did none of the fleeing lay judges, lawyers, and others take the victim’s child out of the room?

7. Why did the Federal Police officer, who had been a witness in his capacity as a Border Patrol officer in a neighboring courtroom of the Dresden Superior Court (Landgericht), and was called to the scene by the fleeing members of the court, aim and fire at the leg of the (already severely wounded) victim’s husband rather than at the murderer?

In my view, the aim of this list of unanswered questions, which may indicate failures and errors in judgment, is not so much to expose those directly responsible as it is to raise public consciousness. It must be determined whether anyone was harmed due to stereotypical perceptions of groups, so that such tragic outcomes can be prevented in the future. With all respect for the suffering of Marwa El-Sherbini’s family, who bear the burden of this perfidious murder, I must, as a non-lawyer and media researcher, raise these generally relevant issues.

Anti-Islamic attitudes are drastically increasing; in some places, there is already a pogrom climate. I am not the only one who examines this issue scientifically and has received death threats as a result. Based on the new information gained in the current debates, the failure to investigate such threats over the last year, despite my filing a criminal complaint, should not be repeated. That is something of a relief, because, given the debates that fuel the fire of racism, scholarship, the media, and prudent politicians will have to commit even more than they have up to now to the encouragement of a constructive public debate instead of ceding ground to shallow, transparent populism. It must remain possible and a protected activity to counteract the latter tendency in accordance with the Constitution and human rights law, which create duties both for the state and the citizenry.

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The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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