A German court has ruled that the government may not force citizens kidnapped in foreign countries to reimburse costs for their release.
Free at last: Reinhilt Weigel after being released from her kidnappers in Columbia, 2003
Do not add insult to injury -- that was the essence of the court decision on Tuesday in Berlin declaring it unlawful to charge German hostages the costs of their own liberation.
The case was brought to court by Reinhilt Weigel, a physiotherapist who was abducted by left-wing militants while backpacking in Colombia in 2003. After being held hostage with six others for 74 days, the German government negotiated for her release. Weigel was flown from the jungle hide-out to the capital Bogota in a helicopter. Upon her return, she received a bill for over 12,000 euros ($14,600) from the German foreign ministry-- for its share of the expenses.
Reinhilt Weigel, returning to her home in Bremen in 2003
The ministry had based its demands on German consular law, which states that if the government helps Germans in financial need or danger abroad, it can reclaim the costs afterwards. But Weigel's lawyer, Josef Mayer, argued that the law did not apply to hostages.
"The fundamental decision that was made today makes it clear, that -- at least by current law -- the foreign ministry can only demand reimbursement in cases where German citizens are in financial distress," Mayer said. "For example, if a citizen is abroad and their return airplane ticket is stolen, then the German foreign ministry is required to replace it for them. The same holds true for hostages, and if the ministry gives them money for their return flight, then they must repay these costs as well."
Since Reinhilt Weigel paid for her own flight home, Mayer argued, she should not be required to pay for the additional costs of her liberation.
Two German engineers were abducted in Iraq on Jan. 24 and have not yet been released
The court's decision comes after a number of high-profile kidnappings in recent years, including that of archaeologist Susanne Osthoff in Iraq and the family of former senior German diplomat Jürgen Chrobog in Yemen. In none of the other cases were additional costs demanded.
The foreign ministry has said that it would consider an appeal.
Two German engineers, Rene Bräunlich and Thomas Nitzschke, were abducted in Irak on Jan. 24. There has been no news of them for weeks.