Volksverhetzung (German: "incitement of popular hatred") is a concept in German criminal law that bans the incitement of hatred against a segment of the population. It often applies in, though it is not limited to, trials relating to Holocaust denial in Germany. The German penal code (Strafgesetzbuch) establishes that someone is guilty of Volksverhetzung if the person:
in a manner that is capable of disturbing the public peace:
- incites hatred against segments of the population or calls for violent or arbitrary measures against them; or
- assaults the human dignity of others by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming segments of the population
There are also special provisions for Holocaust denial (added in the 1990s) and speech justifying or glorifying the Nazi government 1933–1945 (recently added).
Although freedom of speech is mentioned by Article 5 of the Grundgesetz (Germany's constitution), said article basically protects any non-outlawed speech. Restrictions exist, e.g. against personal insults, use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations, or Volksverhetzung. It is a common misconception that Volksverhetzung includes any spreading of Nazism, racist, or other discriminatory ideas. For any hate speech to be punishable as Volksverhetzung, the law requires that said speech be "qualified for disturbing public peace" either by inciting "hatred against parts of the populace" or calling for "acts of violence or despotism against them", or by attacking "the human dignity of others by reviling, maliciously making contemptible or slandering parts of the populace".
Volksverhetzung is a punishable offense under Section 130 of the Strafgesetzbuch (Germany's criminal code) and can lead to up to five years imprisonment. Volksverhetzung is punishable in Germany even if committed abroad and even if committed by non-German citizens, if the incitement of hatred takes effect on German territory—that is, the seditious sentiment was expressed in written or spoken German and disseminated in Germany (German criminal code's Principle of Ubiquity, Section 9 Paragraph 1 Alternatives 3 and 4 of the Strafgesetzbuch).
Historically, the "Karlsbader Beschlüsse" of the German Confederation under Austria and led by Metternich included democratic ideals as well as agitation for one, unified German state as Volksverhetzung.
Comparison to international laws
Similar laws exist around the world, for instance:
- In the UK, incitement to ethnic or racial hatred is a criminal offense under Sections 17–29 of the Public Order Act 1986.
- In Ireland, the corresponding law is the 'Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act'.
- A similar law exists in Sweden as "hets mot folkgrupp" ("agitation against a people"), second section 16th chapter 8§ of Criminal law.
- The Finnish Criminal Law also includes a similar law, the crime being called "kiihottaminen kansanryhmää vastaan" in the Finnish version, "hets mot folkgrupp" in the Swedish version: 11th chapter ("On War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity"), 8§.
- § 130 Strafgesetzbuch (StGB) [ German Criminal Code]
- § 9 Strafgesetzbuch (StGB) [ German Criminal Code]
- Günther, Klaus (2000). "The Denial of the Holocaust: Employing Criminal Law to Combat Anti-Semitism in Germany". Tel Aviv University Studies in Law 15 (1): 51–66.
- Stein, Eric (1986). "History against Free Speech: The New German Law against the ‘Auschwitz’—and other—‘Lies’". Michigan Law Review 85 (2): 277–324. JSTOR 1288738.