The raids on Wednesday marked the first time that Germany has conducted a nationwide hunt for internet hate purveyors, according to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who said he hoped the operations would send a strong message that criminals cannot hide from the law in the seemingly anonymous internet.
According to German news reports, the raids followed months of observing one Facebook group that glorified National Socialism and broke German laws against promoting hate.
Suspects were accused of posting anti-Semitic, extremist and xenophobic messages, including denial of or relativizing the Holocaust, celebrating aspects of National Socialism and using Nazi symbolism, and calling for attacks on refugees and politicians. Evidence was seized at several locations.
Maizière said in a statement that hate speech paves the way for actual violence, thus the urgency of the crackdown.
According to the ministry, there are increasing numbers of “hate lists” found online with the names, addresses and employers working against right-wing extremism as well as people seeking asylum in Germany. The publication of these lists has been linked with public calls for violence against these people, the statement said.
In Germany, those who encourage violence based on religious or ethnic background can face up to three years in prison.
“There is no area in Germany that is above the law; criminal law applies to the internet” as to any other space where a crime is committed, Maizière said, adding that internet providers also will be held responsible when hate is spread by clients.