Germany to prosecute use of ‘Z’ symbol in support of Russian war – POLITICO

BERLIN — German officials plan to prosecute people displaying the “Z” symbol, linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The Home Office said Monday it welcomed announcements by several regional states that people using the symbol could face legal action based on a law which prohibits the public approval of illegal acts.

Germans could be breaking the law by painting the symbol on properties, displaying it at demonstrations, or posting it online. If found guilty, they can be fined or imprisoned for up to three years under the Criminal Code.

The white “Z” became a symbol of the Russian war after it was painted on military vehicles that took part in the invasion of Ukraine. Its meaning is not clear; Some believe it is a military zone, others suspect it refers to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Russian Defense Ministry has indicated that for “za pobedu‘, meaning ‘for victory’.

The symbol was adopted by the Russians to show their support for the war. Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak wore the symbol at an international event in Doha, and Kremlin-backed propaganda portal RT has launched merch related to “Z”.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said the security authorities were aware that the symbol was already being used in Germany, but gave no further details.

The states of Berlin, Bavaria, Saxony and Lower Saxony have all announced that they will take legal action against users of the symbol. Officials in three other states – Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony-Anhalt – have said they are looking into similar measures.

Michael Roth, a member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD and chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the announcements.

“The ‘Z’ has become the symbol of an authoritarian regime waging a horrific war of aggression, breaking international law, undermining freedom of expression and making lying the norm,” Roth said tweeted. “Anyone who uses the ‘Z’ in our country makes themselves a vassal of the Russian regime and must be punished.”

Wolfgang Kubicki, an MP for the Liberal Free Democrats, who are also part of the governing coalition, added his support for the move.

“A free state based on the rule of law has to put up with a lot when it comes to freedom of expression and assembly” said Kubicki. But he added: “Publicly endorsing ongoing criminal wars of aggression with propaganda symbolism is no longer part of it when it disturbs the public peace.”

However, online critics accused the government of tokenism and questioned how it could be implemented.

Jörg Heidrich, a specialist lawyer for IT law and a member of the German Media Self-Regulation Press Council, said the decision raised “great legal difficulties”.

He suggested that “provocateurs” could create “big problems” for law enforcement by finding ways to use the symbol that border on the legal.

“So far there seems to have been no court decisions on this issue, but rather political expressions of opinion,” added Heidrich.

The Lower Saxony Ministry of the Interior has so far been aware of “individual cases” of the use of the “Z” sign – on buildings, on a car and on a Russian flag that is on private property but visible to the public.

Germany has some of the strictest online hate speech rules in the West. Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube must remove illegal content within 24 hours of becoming aware of violations or face fines of up to €50 million under a law known as NetzDG.

Such unlawful posts include propaganda and symbols of “unconstitutional organizations” such as the Nazi swastika and the flag of IS. However, the rules do not apply to research, art, teaching or journalistic content.

Clothilde Goujard contributed to the reporting. Germany to prosecute use of 'Z' symbol in support of Russian war - POLITICO

Fry Electronics Team

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