Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The German police have opened investigations into more than 140 incidents of suspected endorsement of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, taking place in several German states.
Most of the investigations are tied to the use of the controversial “Z” symbol, seen ubiquitously on Russian tanks and armoured vehicles in Ukraine, which has come to represent President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of a neighbouring country, and is fast becoming synonymous with war crimes.
The investigations were launched as several German federal states introduced laws to ban the use of the “Z” symbol, judging it represents an unlawful expression of support for the violent military invasion.
“The public display of this symbol in connection with the Russian invasion will trigger an investigation when its use in the context means endorsement or support for Russia’s war of aggression,” said a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry of the German state of Magdeburg.
According to North Rhine-Westphalia’s Interior Ministry, the state police have opened 37 investigations into suspected endorsement of the invasion. “Of those, 22 investigations are looking into the use of the “Z” symbol as a sign of solidarity with Russian military commanders,” said a ministry spokesperson in North Rhine-Westphalia.
In this, Germany’s most populous state, a parade of cars drove from Cologne to Bonn in late March, ending their route at a Soviet war memorial in a Bonn graveyard. A number of cases also involve property damage, as well as Russian flag-waving protests. The organisers of such protests insist they are demonstrating against discrimination against Russian speakers in Germany, and are not expressing support for the invasion.
Some 17 cases of condoning criminal offences were opened in the state of Hamburg, also tied to outward signs of support for the Russian invasion, and further 19 cases were opened in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. Bavaria, which refused to publicise its number of cases, made a point of stressing that its public prosecutors were taking “resolute action” against people endorsing the illegal right.
Bavarian Justice Minister Georg Eisenreich stressed that everyone in Germany is free to express their opinions. “But freedom of expression ends where a criminal offence begins,” emphasised Eisenreich.