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Volksverhetzung, in English "incitement of the masses", "instigation of the people" (the official English translation of the German criminal code uses "incitement to hatred"[1][2]), is a concept in German criminal law that refers to incitement to hatred against segments of the population and refers to calls for violent or arbitrary measures against them, including assaults against the human dignity of others by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming segments of the population.[3][1][2]

It is often applied to, though not limited to, trials relating to Holocaust denial in Germany. The criminal code (Strafgesetzbuch) Chapter 7 (Offences against public order), Paragraph 130 (Incitement to hatred) of the Federal Republic of Germany defines when a person is guilty of Volksverhetzung.[3][1][2]

Constituent elements[edit]

Incitement of the People (Volksverhetzung) is defined by § 130 (Incitement to hatred) Section 1 of the Criminal Code:[1][2]

Section 1[edit]

Whosoever, in a manner capable of disturbing the public peace:

  1. incites hatred against a national, racial, religious group or a group defined by their ethnic origins, against segments of the population or individuals because of their belonging to one of the aforementioned groups or segments of the population or calls for violent or arbitrary measures against them; or
  2. assaults the human dignity of others by insulting, maliciously maligning an aforementioned group, segments of the population or individuals because of their belonging to one of the aforementioned groups or segments of the population, or defaming segments of the population,

shall be liable to imprisonment from three months to five years.[1][2]

On 21 January 2015, changes to the former text of § 130 Sections 2 and 5, with Section 6 becoming Section 7, took effect following European parliament amendments.[4] At present these changes are not reflected in the English translation of § 130 as updated in the original current German § 130.


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".

Application to offences committed abroad[edit]

Offences, that are committed in accordance with § 130 of the Criminal Code abroad, whether by German nationals or foreigners, can be pursued as a domestic crime, when they so act, as if they had been committed within the country, affecting the public peace in Germany and violate the human dignity of German citizens. It is sufficient, for example, that a criminal content on the Internet, for example in the form of a HTML page, can be accessed from Germany.[5] Hence, for example, the jurisdiction of German courts can be applied for offences of sedition (Volksverhetzungsdelikte) committed abroad. Such an example, was the conviction of the Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel by the District Court of Mannheim in February 2007, who was convicted of inciting propaganda, that he had published from the US and Canada on the Internet.


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.

Similar laws in other countries[edit]

Further information: Hate speech and Fighting words

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 an ethnic group"), second section 16th chapter 8§ of the criminal code.[6]
  • The Finnish criminal code also includes a similar law, which calls the crime "kiihottaminen kansanryhmää vastaan" ("incitement against ethnic groups") in the Finnish version, "hets mot folkgrupp" in the Swedish version: 11th chapter ("On War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity"), 8§.


Further reading[edit]

  • Timmermann, Wibke K (2014). Incitement in International Law. Abingdon, Oxon, England: Routledge. ISBN 9781138020801. 
  • 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. 

External links[edit]