BONN (Aug. 18)
In the wake of international outrage, two judges who gave a lenient sentence to an extremist right-wing leader and subsequently appeared to defend him were this week removed from the bench.
The president of the state court in the southwestern German city of Mannheim issued a terse statement Monday saying Judges Reiner Orlet and Wolfgang Muller would step down immediately because of “long-term illness.”
In June, the judges found Gunter Deckert, chairman of the right-wing National Democratic Party, guilty on charges of inciting racial hatred. The court sentenced him to a one-year suspended sentence.
Charges had initially been brought against Deckert after he served as translator at a rally in 1991 for Fred Leuchter, an American Holocaust denier.
In addition to translating comments made by Leuchter, Deckert said that he supported Leuchter’s theories, including statements that the Holocaust never took place.
Publicly expressing Holocaust-denial views is a crime under German law.
Last week, the judges provoked a storm of outrage when they explained that the lenient sentence had been handed down because Deckert was a family man with no previous criminal record.
The court also praised the defendant as a “highly intelligent person” of “strong character.”
During a special session Monday of all the judges assigned to the Mannheim court, Muller’s and Orlet’s associates distanced themselves from sections of the controversial ruling, saying it “created the impression that far-right ideology was being condoned.”
The president of the court, Gunter Weber, sent a letter of apology to Mannheim’s Jewish community.
The explanation of the ruling triggered a chain of angry reactions from all parts of the political spectrum here, and was joined by sharp criticisms from Jewish leaders in Germany and the United States.