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German court raps police over racial profiling

A German appeals court has ruled against police in a case of racial profiling, saying officers broke anti-discrimination law. Human rights groups have applauded the verdict, saying police must now change their practices.

A German court delivered a landmark ruling against racial profiling on Tuesday by saying police had violated the rights of a black German student, who refused to show identification to police on a train.

The decision, which came from an upper administrative court in the western city of Koblenz, means police cannot screen passengers on skin color alone.

The 26-year-old student, whose name was withheld from the public, was asked by two federal police officers to show his identification papers during a December 2010 train ride from Kassel to Frankfurt.

One officer later testified that he had picked out the young man while looking for illegal immigrants among passengers because the student was not white.

The man refused and an argument ensued. The policemen took him to a police station where he was charged with criminal insult.

Skin color profiling slammed

On Tuesday, a Koblenz court spokesman said: "This ID check was contrary to law because it was mainly prompted by skin color."

The federal police, who are responsible for patrolling Germany's major railway stations, airports and other cross-border traffic, apologized to the man in the courtroom. He had previously lost a lower-level case in Koblenz to have the police action ruled illegal. Tuesday's appeal ruling reversed that.

"This has been a long battle to make federal police obey the ban on discrimination," said the man in a statement through his lawyer, Sven Adam.

Rights groups applaud decision

The human rights group Amnesty International described Tuesday's court ruling as a "major signal" to police. The German Human Rights Institute said law enforcers must now alter their methods.

The head of Germany's Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency Christine Lüders said the verdict showed that the German constitution "prohibits racial discrimination by the state."

Irene Alt, integration minister for Germany's Rhineland-Palatinate state, welcomed the decision, saying it showed that "all people in our diverse society are bound to equal treatment and fairness."

One police union disapproved of the ruling "for not making policing any easier."

"Once again, the courts are making aesthetic improvements to the law and ignoring the practical side," said Rainer Wendt, chief of the DPoIG police union.

dr/ipj (dpa, AFP, dapd)