Arson in German refugee accommodations: double standards in court?

In Neuburg on the river Danube in Bavaria, three Nigerian asylum seekers were sentenced today to two years’ suspended sentences for arson and physical injury resulting from negligence – despite their previous convictions. The judge is convinced that the three men set a fire in their accommodation in Feilenmoos last August. According to the regional newspaper Donaukurier, the fire caused property damage of approximately 20,000 euros. Four people were injured.The female judge considered a confession of the three accused from Africa as mitigating. In her opinion, it is a first step towards reform. In addition, the judge said that the remand in custody had left a lasting impression on the three men, who have already been convicted of theft, attempted fraud and assault – but only to fines.According to the defense attorney, the motive for the act was that one of the arsonists wanted to ” send a signal” against the transfer to the asylum center.

Not all perpetrators who set fire to asylum shelters can expect such lenient sentences, as the three Nigerians living in Bavaria did. For example, in 2017, in the trial of the arson attack on a refugee shelter in Nauen, Brandenburg, NPD local politician Maik Schneider was sentenced to eight years in prison, an accomplice to seven years. In the appeal proceedings, the main perpetrator received seven years and nine months in prison. It is interesting that in many reports about this crime there is not a word about possible injured persons.You have to search thoroughly to find information about it: Schneider set fire to a sports hall in Nauen, Brandenburg, where refugees were to be accommodated – so there were none at the time of the arson. Quite different from the three Africans in Bavaria – where the accommodation was occupied and four people were injured.

In the case of the arson attack in Nauen, presiding judge Theodor Horstkötter established “xenophobic and right-wing extremist motives” in the first trial and said: “A shelter for refugees should offer protection for people who have fled from war and terror – they wanted the opposite”, Horstkötter stated. The judgement was guided by the idea of general prevention. In various other cases, xenophobic perpetrators were also sentenced to long prison terms for arson in asylum accommodations.Such harshness may well be appropriate to discourage imitators. But the question arises as to why this general prevention seems to play a much smaller role when inmates deliberately set fire to hostels that are already occupied in order to send a signal, and then a larger one when xenophobes set fire to an empty gymnasium where refugees are later to be housed. Both acts are shocking to condemn the motives in both cases in the strongest terms. Although the Penal Code was amended in 2015 in such a way that “racist, xenophobic or other inhuman” motives or goals of the perpetrator are “particularly” to be taken into account when sentencing.Here the question arises why extremism of any kind, whether right-wing, left-wing or religious, is not mentioned? Is the new regulation an ideologization of the penal code? Isn’t every setting fire to an inhabited accommodation a contempt for human beings? And don’t other factors also play a role according to the law – such as the degree of “breach of duty”? Is a suspended sentence for serious arson with injured persons really still deterrent enough for offenders with a criminal record? To sum up, it remains to be said: It is strange that the sentences are not only different, but almost diametrically opposed. And provides arguments to those who talk about a two-tier justice system in Germany.

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