In-depth report on the tenth G20-trial of Thursday, 28 September 2017

The tenth trial against a NoG20 activist took place at the district court in Altona and ended with a conviction and a suspended sentence of one year and three months.

The trial took place in one of the smaller courtrooms. A make-shift security control point had been set up in front of the courtroom, likely in order to cast the accused as “dangerous” to the public. Members of the press were present. Photographers tried to take pictures of the accused before he was able to shield his face. A court officer interrupted them and stated that no pictures were to be taken in the courtroom. The photographer then demanded to be allowed to talk to the judge, which the court officer allowed him. After his talk with the judge, the photographer continued taking photos of the accused, including close-ups.

The indictment charges the accused with resisting officers and causing bodily harm by dangerous means according to Sections 114 and 223, 224 of the German Criminal Code for acts which he allegedly committed in the evening of the 6th of July. After the reading of the indictment the defense read out a short statement by the accused according to which he admitted his guilt and regretted his deeds. He had let himself become caught up in the aggressive atmosphere. He did not deny the political background, but stood by his decision to come to the g20 summit in order to protest peacefully. Living in Sicily, he was intimately aware of the refugee crisis, which is why he had come to Hamburg to protest peacefully against the politics of the G20. The defense counsel stated that further questions would not be answered. Both the prosecutor and the judge nonetheless posed several questions, the judge noting that, while it was the right of the accused not to say anything further, this lead to a “different impression”.

Witness testimony was introduced in written form as the witness was not present. Witness Mr. Hachmann, an officer with the federal police in Bielefeld, was active during the summit as a so-called “Observer of crimes” (Tatbeobachter) in civilian clothing. According to his statement, the accused and another person were present in a group of “black bloc” activists when the accused threw a glass bottle in the direction of a nearby group of 40 police officers wearing protective gear. The bottle had broken on the helmet of one officer, no injured officers had been found out. Hachmann further stated that he had followed the two persons and seen them take off their “masks” in a corner shop and changing their clothes on a nearby street corner. After that, he had talked to his colleagues Lachmann and Glanzin – the latter is likely the officer who testified in the G20 trial against another accused on Tuesday. However, the accused had not been arrested at the scene, but had been recognized one day later at some distance from the alleged crime scene and had been arrested then. The defense protested against the fact that the witness had not appeared in person, given that his written statement contained a number of assumptions regarding which they were now unable to ask questions. The accused does not have prior convictions. Questions by the judge and the prosecutor regarding his personal details showed some skepticism in this regard, which led to the defense counsel remarking that “we are lucky this trial does not take place under a different code of laws”. The prosecutor had already made a motion that a DNA sample be collected from the accused. The defense felt that this was questionable, but did not really object either. The accused gave his consent, and as experts able to take a DNA sample were already present, the trial was interrupted for a short time so that it could be collected.

In her concluding statement, the prosecutor found that the defendant was guilty of violations of Sections 114 and 223, 224 of the Criminal Code. She stated that the situation had been very dangerous and that it had been only due to chance that nobody had been seriously injured. His admission of guilt and his statement of regret called for a lighter sentence, the “positive social prognosis” as well as his consent to the taking of a DNA sample. Nonetheless, she went on to say, he had also done his part to ensure that the sense of security of the population during the summit had been impaired. Therefore, the sentence had to take into account the principle of general prevention. She moved that the defendant be sentenced to a suspended prison sentence of one year and three months, with the probationary period set at three years, and that he be ordered to pay an additional fine of 700 Euros as a condition of suspension.

The defense closing statement criticized the draconic judgments handed down in the previous G20 trials and the reasoning by the courts in these trials. The defense counsel referred to an “anchoring effect”, i.e. the phenomenon of people subconsciously basing their judgments on numbers which had been given by others previously. Generally speaking, courts in the trials against NoG20 activists had been very reluctant to free themselves from the influence of the first judgment and sentence, as shown by the fact that differences between the various trials were hardly considered at all and almost all accused were given similar, exceptionally high sentences. This was a cause for concern. He also referred to the necessity that the principle of proportionality be upheld in sentencing. It was only the special circumstance of the G20 which led to the crime of attempting to cause bodily harm by dangerous means being elevated from a rather commonplace occurrence to something totally out of the ordinary. Similar to the arguments brought by another defense attorney in the trial on Tuesday, he called upon the courts to free themselves of the “special circumstance G20” and the anchoring effect and to pass judgment in a neutral manner. Most of the G20-accused did not have prior convictions. Based on Sect. 114 of the Criminal Code, crimes which just one year ago would have led to a fine now led to overlong prison sentences. He referred to examples of earlier criminal acts with a political background, one concerning the throwing of a bottle, one concerning a case of causing bodily harm by dangerous means which led to actual injuries. Both trials concerned the same charges, but both lead only to fines. The defense counsel criticized the sentence requested by the prosecution and the fact that the police had not even tried to find out whether officers had been injured. It would have been important to consider this fact and the question of injuries. He also referred to the fact that his client was particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of detention. Any motions to be made in detention could only be brought in the German language, which made it very hard for detained persons who did not speak German to bring such motions, given that counsel could not bring motions on behalf of their clients. In addition, his client had taken responsibility for his actions also by not insisting on the witness appearing in person. He stated that he had doubts concerning his client’s alleged potential for violence and the “criminal energy” expended by his client – after all, the so-called “mask” had consisted solely of a hoodie. As to the alleged high dangerousness of his acts, this was already contained in the charges themselves and thus could not be used to aggravate the sentence. Finally, neither did the principle of general prevention call for higher sentence as this would require a rise in the number of similar crimes since G20 which endangered the community. The defense closing argument ended with a motion that the defendant be sentenced to the minimum sentence of six months, suspended, with a probationary period of three years.

The judge followed the prosecution and sentenced the defendant to a suspended sentence of 1 year and 3 months, with a probationary period of 3 years. To explain why she had not considered mitigating circumstances, she stated that the intentions of the accused had been clear. She added that the G20 summit had been an exceptional situation which could not be compared with other demonstrations and therefore required a commensurate sentence. By throwing the bottle, the defendant had done his part in causing disturbances during the summit, he had called into question the state’s monopoly of force and had failed to see the “human in the uniform”. The police were entitled to be respected and held in high regard for their commitment and could not be allowed to be made into a target for violence. The situation in its entirety had to be considered differently from the way the defense had proposed. The conviction and sentence was a warning and an educational measure. She did not set any further conditions for suspension of the sentence as the costs of the trial were “high enough” given the limited income of the accused.