In a decision published on November 26, 2022, the district court of Hamburg (Amtsgericht Hamburg, AG Hamburg) held that displaying a white DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung, German Institute for Standardization) A4-sized paper with a blue letter “Z” painted on it in the rear window of a car constituted a crime. It stated that by displaying the letter “Z,” the defendant was publicly approving the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. The court convicted the defendant and ordered him to pay a monetary fine of 80 daily rates in the amount of 50 euros (about US$52), for a total fine of 4,000 euros (about US$4,135).
Facts of the Case
The defendant attached a white DIN A4-sized paper with a blue letter “Z” painted on it to the rear window of his car. The paper was clearly visible. On March 29, 2022, he operated his car with the paper in the rear window on public roads in the city of Hamburg. The defendant admitted that he had attached the paper to his car, but alleged that the letter “Z” only represented the last letter of the alphabet. (Decision, paras. 4, 6.)
The court held that an average person would associate the letter “Z” with the Russian war in Ukraine, especially because the defendant had not added any other context or design to it. The court explained that the Russian defense ministry had declared that “Z” meant Za pobedu (translated as “for victory” or “to victory”). The symbol had been used ubiquitously by the Russians to mobilize support for their war, and the German media had widely reported on it. The court therefore concluded that by displaying the letter ”Z,” the defendant had “publicly approved of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine in a way that was likely to undermine the public’s trust in public peace and to incite potential perpetrators by creating a climate that allows committing acts like the one the defendant approved of.” (Decision, paras. 12–18; German Criminal Code, § 140, no. 2 in conjunction with § 138, para. 1, no. 5, § 42.)
Jenny Gesley, Law Library of Congress
December 6, 2022
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