30 Oct Germany Moves to Tighten Gun and Hate Speech Laws After Far…
BERLIN — Prospective gun buyers in Germany would have to undergo background checks to ensure they have no ties to extremism and social media companies operating in the country would be required to report suspicious posts under a series of proposals advanced Wednesday by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
The legislation comes amid a recent spike in far-right crime. In June, a conservative politician, whose name had appeared on a neo-Nazi hit list circulated online, was fatally shot in the head in what officials believe was the country’s first far-right political assassination since the Nazi era. And just three weeks ago, a right-wing gunman killed two people after attacking a synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur.
“The threat from far-right extremism and far-right terrorism, and with them anti-Semitism, is high in Germany and we can’t stress it often enough,” Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, said at a news conference.
The bulk of far-right attacks in recent years have consisted of anti-Semitic crimes and hate crimes targeting foreigners and those who support them. The far right has scapegoated immigrants as dangerous and broken longstanding taboos about using language that echoes that of the Nazis. This has come despite more than a decade of German economic prosperity and the country’s persistent ranking as one of the safest in the world.
Alternative for Germany, a far-right party, has stoked public anxiety over the 2015 arrival of more than a million, mostly Muslim, refugees and closed ranks with neo-Nazis during street protests. After the synagogue attack, mainstream parties criticized the far right for contributing to the increase in violence by using aggressive language.
The proposals must still be approved by Parliament, where Ms. Merkel’s government holds a majority. It is expected to pass.
The legislation would further toughen the country’s strict 2018 law against online hate speech. The law passed last year requires companies running social media platforms, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, to remove “obviously illegal” content within 24 hours, or face fines of up to 50 million euros, or about $56 million.
Under the proposed legislation, just removing the posts would no longer be enough — companies would also be required to report any such content to the authorities. Germany’s federal police plan to establish a new department that would collect the reported content and the I.P. addresses — the numbered codes that differentiate individual internet connections — of those posts.
Spreading insults and hate-speech online would also carry stiffer sentences, reflecting the “unlimited reach” of such comments.
“It cannot be that there is fertile ground in this country for hate and incitement,” said Christine Lambrecht, the country’s justice minister.
Germany already has strict gun laws that forbid the production of weapons and require extensive training and a permit to purchase a firearm. Nevertheless, authorities found last year that more than 790 people considered far-right extremists held a weapons permit. Under the proposed legislation, those permits could be revoked.
The proposed legislation would also make attacks on local politicians and first-responders or emergency medical personnel a separate crime. Along with police officers and fire fighters, both groups have increasingly become the target of violence — from both the left and the right — while trying to carry out their jobs.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency considers an estimated 24,100 people in the country to be right-wing extremists. About half of them have the potential to become violent, authorities believe.
Critics charge the proposals do not go far enough to prevent people from turning extremist in the first place, despite its pledge of 115 million euros annually through 2023 for projects promoting democracy. But the legislation, they said, would not have prevented the attack on the synagogue.
The man accused in the attack, Stephan Balliet, did not have a previous record and was not on authorities’ radar before he tried to carry out a massacre of Jews on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on their calendar. Authorities believe that he was radicalized online and built or printed on a 3D printer several of the weapons that he used in the attack — one of the reasons that authorities believe more people were not harmed.
“I don’t want to imagine how things would have turned out with professionally made weapons,” Mr. Seehofer said of the attacker. “Nor do I want to think about how things would have turned out if we had American gun laws.”
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.