German far-right politician on trial for alleged use of banned Nazi slogan

Al Jazeera
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Bjorn Hocke, leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Thuringia, faces three years in prison if convicted.

A prominent member of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has gone on trial after being charged with using a banned Nazi slogan.

Bjorn Hocke, the 52-year-old leader of the anti-migrant AfD in the eastern state of Thuringia, has been accused of invoking the phrase “Alles fur Deutschland” (“Everything for Germany”) – a slogan of the Nazis’ SA stormtroopers.

His trial opened on Thursday in the city of Halle just months before state elections he hopes to win.

The AfD, which national polls put in second place after the opposition conservatives, is under growing scrutiny over reports that senior party figures had discussed the deportation of people with non-ethnic German backgrounds.

Hocke is accused of ending a speech in Merseburg in the state of Saxony-Anhalt before Germany’s 2021 federal elections with the words “Everything for Germany”. The phrase, along with other Nazi slogans and symbols, is illegal in Germany.

He has been charged with using symbols of unconstitutional groups, which includes the Nazi party, an offence that can result in a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years. 

At an AfD meeting in Thuringia in December, he allegedly shouted, “Everything for …” and incited the audience to reply: “Germany”.

Prosecutors said he was aware of the origin of the phrase.

Last week, during a debate with a conservative rival, the former history teacher said he was not aware that “Everything for Germany” was a Nazi slogan.

“Everyone out there knows it’s an everyday saying,” he said on Welt television.

Hocke, considered an “extremist” by German intelligence services, previously called Berlin’s Holocaust monument a “memorial of shame”.

Several hundred protesters gathered outside the court with banners reading “Stop the AfD” and “Bjorn Hocke is a Nazi.”

Germany’s legal system does not have formal pleas, and defendants are not obliged to respond to the charges. After the indictment was read, his defence team said he would respond and answer questions from prosecutors at a later point.

The case, set to last until mid-May, is complicating the political prospects of Hocke, who has been floated as a possible state premier in Thuringia because the AfD leads in the polls there before regional elections in September.

At the national level, the AfD has been hit by a series of scandals after its popular ascent last year, including senior party members accused of spreading pro-Russian content for money.