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Germany makes burning foreign flags jailable offense

May 15, 2020

German officials have described the law as a necessary measure, saying the sole aim of burning flags is to "stir up hatred, anger and aggression." But one party said it interfered with citizens' freedom of expression.

An EU flag being burnt
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Bozuglu

German parliament late Thursday passed a law making the burning of flags from the EU or foreign countries a punishable offense. Under the new law, violators can receive up to three years in prison.

The legislation was spurred on by lawmakers after protesters burned Israeli flags on the streets of the capital Berlin.

"In Germany, the Israeli flag is not allowed to be burned," said Johannes Fechner, legal policy spokesman for the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said that "burning flags in public has nothing to do with peaceful protest." Instead, its aim is to "stir up hatred, anger and aggression," she added.

Contentious law

Before the law, the German penal code provided protections for symbols of the federal republic and sovereign nations under certain conditions. For example, Germany needed to have diplomatic relations with the country.

The new legislation aims to abolish those loopholes and extend protection to the EU flag, which has been set alight during euroskeptic and far-right protests in Germany.

The only party to vote against the new law was the far-right Alternative for Germany. They argued that it interfered excessively with the freedom of expression and artistic creativity of German citizens.

ls/rt (Reuters, AFP)

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