Scrap German blasphemy law to promote tolerance, legal expert demands | News | DW | 24.01.2015
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Scrap German blasphemy law to promote tolerance, legal expert demands

The German Protestant church's top jurist says Germany should remove blasphemy from its penal code. The post-attack edition of Paris' Charlie Hebdo magazine has reached 7 million despite Muslim protest worldwide.

Protestant legal institute director Hans Michael Heinig wrote in Saturday's edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) daily that Germany's blasphemy paragraph should be deleted.

It did not fit Germany's secular constitutional form of statehood and Paragraph 166's removal from Germany's penal code would be a "tangible signal" for press and artist freedoms in the face of the recent terror attacks in Paris, Heinig wrote.

Since Europe's religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, the constitutional state had developed instruments to protect the freedom of all religions and systems of belief. Likewise, the state protected itself against "enemies of the constitution," even when they used religious motives, while also safeguarding the bodily integrity and personal dignity of individuals, for example by banning incitement to violence, Heinig pointed out.

Blasphemy has existed in German penal code since 1871, but in 1969 the definition of insulting religious belief was reduced from the denial of God to merely situations in which insults against any religion which could endanger the peace or public order. Currently, the violation of Paragraph 166 carries a 3-year jail term.

Distasteful, but must be tolerated

"Blasphemy may by distasteful; but from a legal viewpoint, it is an exercise of fundamental rights," Heinig said.

Virtues such as tolerance and regard for others could only be achieved through education and role models and not legal steps. Paragraph 166 had become "almost irrelevant" in criminal statistics, he added.

Rechtswissenschaftler Hans Michael Heinig

Tackle tensions with secular principles, argues Heinig

The canon law institute headed by Heinig and based in the northern German university city of Göttigen advises Germany's EKD Protestant federation which comprises 20 regional churches.

Liberal also calls for paragraph's removal

A similar call to remove blasphemy from Germany's penal code was made by Germany's liberal Free Democrats' party leader, Christian Lindner, four days after jihadi gunmen murdered 12 people, including four cartoonists, inside the Paris office of satire magazine Charlie Hebdo on January 7.

Lindner told the Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper on January 11 that basic rights to free expression and media independence must not be curtailed by religious belief.

Religious communities must endure satire and ridicule just like any citizen, any political party and any institution, he added.

Retain paragraph, say Catholic bishops

Earlier this week, Germany's Catholic Bishops' Conference called on Germany to retain the penal code's blasphemy paragraph. Spokesman Mathias Kopp said it represented a "prudent balance between highly placed constitutional values such free expression, artistic and press freedoms versus freedoms of religion and thought."

Shortly after the Paris attacks, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Bavarian partner party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) rejected such calls. CSU interior affairs spokesman Stephan Mayer said penalties for blasphemy should be extended, not reduced.

But the interior affairs spokesman in Merkel's own Christian Democratic (CDU) party Wolfgang Bosbach said the CSU's demand was not a majority view among conservatives.

"Deep wounds," says Hamburg-based imam

Ahead of this week's Friday prayers, the head of a Hamburg Islamic center, Ayatollah Reza Ramezani said on Wednesday that the Charlie Hebdo magazine's post-attack caricature showing the Prophet Muhammad had left "deep wounds" among Muslims.

Deutschland Parteien FDP Dreikönigstreffen 2015 in Stuttgart Christian Lindner

Basic freedoms must not be curtailed, says Lindner

Ramezani, who in Germany is a leading cleric among Shiites, said the fundamental rights of free expression and religious freedom must both be respected.

Muslim feelings should not be injured in the name of freedom as it was understood in Western terms, he said, while urging Muslims when condemning such caricatures to work within the framework of Germany's constitution via legal channels.

Seven million copies

MLP, the firm distributing Charlie Hebdo's special, post-attack edition said it expected the seventh million copy to be sold this Saturday. Some 6.3 million were intended for release within France, and 700,000 abroad.

Charlie Hebdo had had a circulation of about 60,000 before the January 7 attack.

The magazine's defiant so-called "survivors issue" published last week showed a caricatured Muhammad with a tear rolling down his cheek and holding a sign that read "Je suis Charlie" - under the words: "All is forgiven."

Many followers of Islam regard as offensive any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.

On Friday, tens of thousands of people protested in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir over the magazine's latest issue.

ipj/sb (epd, AFP, KNA, AP)

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