Judgment on the neo-Nazi attack in Fretterode: surprisingly mild penalties

In the case of the robbery of two journalists in Thuringia in 2018, the accused were found guilty. But they don’t have to go to jail.

Giant Antifa sign behind a fence

Puschkinhaus in Mühlhausen/Thuringia on the day of the verdict, September 15, 22 Photo: Silvio Dietzel/dpa

MUHLHAUSEN taz | In the hall of the Puschkinhaus in Mühlhausen, there was an oppressive silence on Thursday afternoon when the presiding judge in the so-called Fretterode trial entered the room and announced that the accused Nordulf H. and Gianluca B. were found guilty of property damage and dangerous bodily harm.

The court considers it proven that the two neo-Nazis chased, attacked and seriously injured two journalists. In general, the judge confirmed in her statements the account of the two journalists who appeared in the trial as joint plaintiffs.

Accordingly, in April 2018, the two attacked observed a meeting of members of the right-wing extremist scene on the property of NPD leader Thorsten Heise in Fretterode, Thuringia. After they were discovered, Nordulf H. and Gianluca B. followed the two journalists’ car. The car went off the road, the neo-Nazis smashed the windows of the car. They attacked the occupants with a wrench, a baseball bat, a knife and tear gas. One of the two suffered a skull fracture and a camera disappeared.

Nevertheless, the accused get off with comparatively mild sentences: Nordulf H. was sentenced to a youth penalty of 200 hours of community service, Gianluca B. to a year’s imprisonment on probation. The district court in Mühlhausen thus falls well short of the sentence demanded by the public prosecutor’s office.

“A politically motivated robbery”

Prosecutors had requested prison terms for both defendants. The men are people with close ties to right-wing extremism, a representative of the public prosecutor’s office explained in his plea: “It was not an ordinary robbery, but a politically motivated one.”

The judge said it remained unclear during the hearing whether the defendants had recognized the two attacked as representatives of the press. Rather, the perpetrators would have identified their victims as members of the left scene. According to the presiding judge, this is supported by the fact that the word “ticks” was mentioned during the attack.

One of the journalists left the room in protest while the verdict was being justified. He later told the taz that for him it was a scandalous verdict: “This is disappointment by the rule of law, an incredible sign and for neo-Nazis a license to approach critical journalists,” said the joint plaintiff.

Stylized as a victim

Throughout the process, the two accused tried to present themselves as victims. In a statement, they explained that they were only concerned with defending their personal rights. The judge finds this “understandable” in her comments on the verdict – which, however, does not justify the act. The term “ticks” is also a normal term and does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the political views of the perpetrators.

The attack in Fretterode had been criticized nationwide as an attack on press freedom. But it took more than three years before charges were even brought. In the meantime, the criminal division has been changed.

Peter Dinkloh, Verdi media secretary for the state district of Lower Saxony/Bremen, observed the process and criticized the taz: “The verdict opens the floodgates for neo-Nazis and conspiracy ideologists to talk their way out of inhuman acts” by presenting themselves as those threatened. “But this is constitutionally protected press work,” says Dinkloh.

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