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Defending His Ruling on Right-winger, German Judge Puzzles over Public Fuss

August 16, 1994
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In the wake of a public outcry both here and abroad over a German court’s lenient verdict against an extremist right-wing leader, one of the judges who wrote the controversial decision has strongly defended the ruling.

Judge Reiner Orlet, one of two judges in the case, said in an interview that he “failed to understand” the public uproar that followed the publication of the ruling.

In June, a state court in the southwestern German city of Mannheim 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.

Last week, the court provoked a storm of outrage when it 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.”

Orlet this week told the news magazine Focus that a thorough reading of the ruling would show that it was “totally in order” and that his political views had no relevance when it came to issuing the ruling.

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 had 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.

The court’s explanation, which read like an outright defense of Deckert’s character, read in part, “The defendant, who belongs to the political right, is not an anti-Semite in the sense of (subscribing to the ideology of) the Nazis, who denied the Jews their right to live.”

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.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl joined the chorus of critics, telling the daily newspaper Bild over the weekend that the ruling was a “disgrace.” But he added that it was not representative of the German judicial system as a whole.

A group of protestors staged a sit-in strike in front of the Mannheim court over the weekend, demanding the dismissal of the judges.

According to some unconfirmed speculation here, prosecutors are now reviewing the ruling to check whether it could be interpreted as violating German laws against inciting racial incitement. Such an interpretation could lead to action against the judges.

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