A court in Dresden has found the head of the German anti-Islam Pegida movement guilty of inciting hatred. Lutz Bachmann was fined 9,600 euro by the court on 3 May after describing immigrants as scum and cattle in Facebook posts.
The prosecution, which had demanded a jail sentence for Bachmann, and the defence both said they will appeal the decision.
Bachmann's laywer, Katja Reichel, argued that his Facebook account could have been hacked. But in video footage shown at the trial Bachmann defended the Facebook comments to Pegida supporters, remarking the post used a few words that any of us
would use .
Trial judge Hans Hlavka told the court that it was clear that Bachmann was responsible for the comments, which could not be defended under freedom of speech laws.
Leading German MPs have called for online 'fake news' campaigns to be made a crime. Patrick Sensburg, a senior MP in Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, said:
Targeted disinformation to destabilise a state should be a criminal offence. We need to consider whether there should be some sort of 'test site' that reveals and identifies propaganda pages.
The call was backed by his party colleague Ansgar Heveling, the chairman of the German parliament's influential internal affairs committee aying:
We last saw disinformation campaigns during the Cold War, now they have clearly been revived with new media opportunities. The law already offers options, such as a slander or defamation. But I think a criminal sentence is more appropriate when
it is a targeted campaign.
German intelligence has warned that Russia is seeking to influence next year's German elections via propaganda distributed via the internet, partcularly social media. Russia has been accused of deliberately using socialbots , automated
software masqueraring as real people, to promote 'fake news' stories on social media.
Mrs Merkel's current coalition partners and main rival in next year's elections, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), have also called for a cross-party alliance against 'fake news' stories. Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD leader called for
Democratic solidarity against manipulative socialbots and an alliance against 'fake news'.
Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel of the SPD added:
If there is any doubt about the authenticity of any information, we should refrain from attacking our political opponents with it.