In March 2021, a hitherto completely innocent citizen shared a picture on Facebook showing an old woman with an axe and the text underneath: "Where is this Merkel? Enough is enough!" For the state, this is a public incitement to commit crimes. The man is now threatened with years of court hearings and a high penalty.
Facebook © Jakub Porzycki/IMAGO
Dachau – By definition, a meme – pronounced: Miehm – is a "creative content that spreads predominantly on the Internet". As a rule, he is humorous, but sometimes also satirical and socially critical. According to Dachau district judge Tobias Bauer, a meme may therefore "sometimes violate political correctness" and explicitly "be directed against individuals or political currents".
54-year-old posts memes on Facbook of a woman with an axe in her hand
Assuming that this definition is correct, then what a 54-year-old county citizen posted on his Facebook page in March 2021 was definitely a meme. The employee, who works for a large Munich-based company, was initially upset about a diet increase for members of the Bundestag. In response to a comment from another user, he replied: "Then it's time to drain this swamp." To do this, he posted a picture, i.e. a meme showing an old woman with an axe in her hand. The meme included the text: "Where is this Merkel? Enough is enough!" The meme, which is important in this context, was spread 100,000 times on the Internet at the time. The 54-year-old from a Dachau district community had not created the meme, but only forwarded it.
Prosecutor: This is the public incitement to commit crimes
Nevertheless, the Munich public prosecutor's office finds that the man, who until then had never appeared in criminal proceedings in his life and, in his own words, has been doing voluntary work in his spare time for three decades, has made himself liable to prosecution. By publicly calling on Facebook, which is open to billions of users, to "remove the then Chancellor Merkel from office by force," the 54-year-old had violated Section 111 of the Criminal Code: He had publicly called for criminal offenses.
Of course, the prosecutor, who, according to his own statement, has been involved in the prosecution of "political matters" for a long time, admitted, one could argue about humor. However, the humor area is "abandoned when violence comes into play". And what else, according to the prosecutor, "should be done with an axe"? His demand was therefore: a fine of 4200 euros, and the defendant would also bear the costs of the proceedings. And his iPhone, on which the Facebook post was made, remains in the hands of the state.
Judge acquits the man
The defender of the man, who was visibly scarred by the proceedings in the dock, demanded an acquittal. The "clear imperative" required by the text of the law, i.e. in this case "Kill Merkel!", did not take place here. If forwarding a meme that "goes viral on the Internet" were actually punishable by law, "then we would have 100,000 criminals in Germany in one fell swoop."
Judge Tobias Bauer followed the defense and acquitted the defendant – knowing that he was not speaking the last word. The public prosecutor's office immediately announced that it would appeal to the next instance to clarify this controversial legal issue.
Citizens' beer garden in Dachau will not open for another year
Spectacular accident in Weichs: car crashes into trees and rolls over
"Couldn't find a job because I'm in a wheelchair": 40-year-old excluded
Explore the cells and crypt for yourself
Ice cream parlor season already over? Owners complain – the price of the scoop of ice cream will probably rise even further
Fancy a voyage of discovery?
I can understand the approach of the public prosecutor's office, and I am grateful that this was made so beautifully clear in the plea. But I don't see it. I can't see the concrete incitement to the crime from this picture.
District Judge Tobias Bauer
Bauer, however, insisted: "It is not clear from this statement that anyone is to be killed." The posted meme, including the sentence that "the swamp must be drained", was not a "concrete incitement" to commit a crime. According to Bauer, an axe "is not an AK 47. The axe also has another purpose." The draining of a swamp is also a "common metaphor to eliminate a state of injustice".
And finally, he does not see the "seriousness" of the incitement to commit a crime required in the text of the law. After all, it was a meme. "Satire is exaggeration. And it can also be tasteless at times." A democratic society like ours must be able to endure such things.
Judge has life advice for the defendant
In the end, however, despite the acquittal, the judge gave the defendant "life advice": "Don't post anything that can be perceived as offensive!" Social media is "like an incubator". What would have been said at the regulars' table in the past and then quickly forgotten can spread and escalate indefinitely on the World Wide Web.
The acquitted emphasized that he had long since "terminated" Facebook. In addition, he is already punished enough: "I am an absolutely peace-loving person, respect the law. But my black sense of humor has become my undoing." The fact that four armed police officers arrived at 6 a.m. to search the apartment was "still difficult to cope with" for him and his wife.