Three leaders in the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany have been acquitted of inciting racial hatred against a black soccer player. The charges date back to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Voigt was first convicted of the charges in April 2009
A German court on Wednesday overturned the conviction of Udo Voigt, chairman of the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), for inciting racial hatred and defamation against a black German soccer player.
Voigt and two other party members were first convicted of the charges in April 2009 and given suspended sentences of seven to 10 months. The men distributed flyers in the run-up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup which appeared to insinuate that defender Patrick Owomoyela was not worthy of a spot on Germany's national team because he is black.
The flyers showed the German white jersey with the number 25, at the time worn by Owomoyela, over the title: "White - not just a jersey color! For a real NATIONAL team!"
Owomoyela and the German Football Association filed the charges
The Berlin state court acquitted the men, saying that the association of the number 25 with Owomoyela alone was not strong enough to prove they were specifically inciting racial hatred against him. The use of the word "white" could also be interpreted as criticism of manipulation and corruption in football, the court said.
The court concluded that the flyers fell under the protection of freedom of speech, and that a xenophobic attitude is not enough to warrant punishment for incitement to racial hatred. The defamation charges were also rejected.
Owomoyela and the German Football Association originally filed the charges, with Owomoyela testifying that he had never in his life felt so attacked because of his race.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner