Should a resigned employee be punished

Berlin Republic The debate magazine

Democracy must protect its actors

Gerd Landsberg - More and more politicians and municipal officials are threatened and attacked. That robs democracy on the ground. It is high time that federal politicians intervene decisively and initiate the long overdue steps

The recent federal election campaign has shown once again that hatred, agitation and violence against politicians are increasing by leaps and bounds. It is no longer “just” about insults, insults or abuse. With the “refugee crisis” in autumn 2015 at the latest, the tone of the disputes has intensified significantly. Threats to life and limb are just as common as attacks on election campaign offices, official and private vehicles, and physical assaults on public officials and politicians - many of whom do voluntary work. Not infrequently, these offenses also affect family members or employees in town halls or offices. At the end of the escalation spiral are attacks like the one on Cologne's mayor Henriette Reker in 2016. The attack on the mayor of Oersdorf in Lower Saxony in 2017 also exemplifies the extent of hatred and violence against politicians.

Volunteers need to feel safe

In Lower Saxony, a mayor was brutally beaten when he was just leaving a community meeting that was discussing the construction of a refugee shelter. These crimes, as in the Oersdorf case, often affect volunteers who work for the common good. It is precisely this group of people who, unlike top politicians, cannot be effectively protected by the police, deserves special attention from society. Because anyone who has to fear being exposed to violent attacks will seriously consider whether they will continue to be involved in local politics in their free time. Some elected officials have already resigned from their office.

Attacks and calls for violence, insults and threats against mandate holders and office holders - especially on social networks on the Internet - have so far mostly resulted in little or no criminal law. The supposed anonymity on the Internet massively lowers the inhibition threshold for many of these crimes. Although insults are covered by criminal law protection, the public interest necessary for criminal prosecution is often negated. In contrast, the much more frequent threats remain largely unpunished. An isolated threat aimed solely at intimidation can only be pursued if serious, serious violent crimes or homicides are threatened. In contrast, the consequences for the victims and their relatives are often considerable. They often lead to serious psychological stress.

Every second mayor was insulted

According to a survey by the magazine Communal of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities among more than 1,000 mayors, almost every second public official has been the victim of insults and insults at least once. One in five respondents has already experienced specific attempts at intimidation and threats. Six percent of those questioned even reported physical assaults against their person. So it is by no means “isolated cases”, but a widespread phenomenon.

If mayors or elected officials as well as employees in municipal offices and administrations are defenseless against such attacks and politicians even resign from their offices for these reasons, this represents a serious threat to the functionality of public offices and thus to the state's order. It becomes increasingly unattractive, to apply for a management position in administration or politics. Disenchantment with the state and politics increases. Democracy lives from participation and from the citizens' commitment to the general public. Wherever those who get involved are threatened, insulted or even attacked, at some point hardly anyone will be found who is ready for this activity. Ultimately, this hate crime poses a serious threat to our democratic constitutional state.

We have to stop this development. We must not allow local democracy to lose its bottom. A defensive constitutional state must consistently prosecute crimes of this kind and protect the affected municipal officials and mandate holders more effectively. The aim is to close gaps in criminal liability, to punish crimes of this kind more clearly and more effectively and thus to protect those affected more effectively. The measures taken so far by the federal and state governments are not sufficient. What is necessary is a policy of zero tolerance against such attacks, which is also implemented consistently in legal terms. The German Association of Towns and Municipalities has long been in favor of an action plan by the federal and state governments against hate crime and a common strategy and structure for combating Internet crime. Despite the obviously threatening developments, federal policy has only acted half-heartedly in the past legislative period.

"Politician stalking" must be punished

In order to be able to guarantee sufficient protection against stalking, threats and insults, the current stalking paragraph of Section 238 of the Criminal Code (StGB) should be supplemented by a new criminal offense of "politician stalking". The legal regulations have only recently been tightened. However, the current stalking paragraph still requires the perpetrator to pursue the victim repeatedly and with particular tenacity ("persistence"). Individual threat actions are still not recorded. This does not do justice to the phenomenon of politician stalking, in which the acts are usually carried out from a crowd, but their effects can be serious.

A new criminal offense of “politician stalking” therefore dispenses with the characteristic of persistence. A sentence of up to three years is envisaged. Another measure would be to standardize hate crime in the penal code as a qualifier for criminal offenses that are dangerous to the public, such as particularly serious arson. The German Association of Towns and Municipalities, together with the Freiherr-vom-Stein-Akademie, commissioned a legal opinion on these issues, which shows these possibilities and proposes corresponding changes to the law.

With the expansion of the legal regulations for the protection of law enforcement officers or rescue workers by the German Bundestag in the spring of this year, a first step has been taken. Now more rules have to follow.

The tightening of criminal law is of little use if the perpetrators are not identified and the public prosecutor's offices and the judiciary cannot systematically prosecute and try them. The social network operators should also be obliged - for example through an amendment to the Telemedia Act - to pass on the data of offenders to the police and the judiciary during investigations. Agreements that entries of this content are deleted on a voluntary basis are not sufficient. The federal states are called upon to ensure an accelerated and consistent procedure by issuing instructions to the public prosecutor's offices if necessary. The public prosecutor should recommend that in the case of hate crime, the special public interest in criminal prosecution should regularly be affirmed.

Internet and computer crime require appropriate training for police and judicial personnel. You need IT experts who specifically deal with Internet and computer crime. Already existing activities in the State Criminal Police Offices and in the Federal Criminal Police Office should be networked and brought together. The central office for information technology in the security area decided by the federal government to decrypt Internet communication must be set up quickly. In addition, it should be ensured that in all federal states - as already in Saxony - a central investigation center with contact persons is set up who can call in those affected in the event of hate mail and threats. Finally, preventive measures should also be considered to prevent hatred from getting stuck in people's minds.

Even if the increasing threats, insults and physical assaults are now also being discussed in the media, consistent action by federal politics, especially to protect municipal officials and mandates, is still a long time coming. It is high time that the legislature reacted and took the necessary steps. The proposals have been on the table for some time and are well known. Now we must not hesitate any longer. The protection of the democratic culture in our country must be a cause for action.

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