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German court fines senior AfD politician €13,000 for using banned Nazi phrase

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A German court has fined a leading member of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party for using a banned Nazi phrase at a political rally, in a high-profile trial just months before an election in which he aims to become a state leader.

The state court in Halle convicted Björn Höcke, the firebrand chief of the AfD in the eastern region of Thuringia, of deliberately using a slogan associated with the Nazi party’s paramilitary wing, the SA, in a speech at a campaign event in May 2021.

Höcke, a former history teacher, closed his remarks at the time with the rallying cry “everything for Germany”. The presiding judge found on Tuesday that he knew of its Nazi connotations when he said it and fined him €13,000. Prosecutors had demanded a six-month suspended sentence while defence attorneys called for acquittal.

Höcke, who faced a maximum sentence of three years in prison, remained defiant throughout the proceedings, which began last month with anti-AfD protesters gathering outside the courthouse.

In a final argument to the court, he accused prosecutors of politically targeting him and said he was a victim of “political repression”, according to local media reports. His legal team said it would appeal against the verdict.

Germany has strict laws outlawing the use of slogans, propaganda and symbolism linked to banned organisations such as the Nazi party or other terrorist organisations.

Höcke, 52, delivered the offending speech to about 250 people at an AfD rally in Merseburg in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. The full slogan he used was: “Everything for our homeland, everything for Saxony-Anhalt, everything for Germany.”

The most prominent member of his party’s hard-right wing, Höcke has repeatedly tested the limits of Germany’s free speech protections with incendiary rhetoric. In February he was charged with criminal incitement after prosecutors alleged he had stoked racial hatred in 2022 when in a post on Telegram he linked Muslim immigrants with a violent attack in the south-west city of Ludwigshafen.

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In 2018, he criticised the Holocaust memorial in central Berlin as a “monument of shame”. He has previously called for a “180-degree turn” in Germany’s culture of atonement for the Nazi atrocities.

Höcke has led his state’s AfD chapter since 2013, the year the party was founded. It is one of three regional branches that the domestic intelligence agency has under official surveillance as a “proven rightwing extremist” group.

His conviction comes one day after another court threw out an attempt by the AfD to stop surveillance of the party by the domestic intelligence agency as a suspected extremist organisation.

Polls suggest the AfD will make gains in European parliament elections next month, and it is leading in the polls in three eastern states voting in September.

While the party could come first in Thuringia with Höcke as its lead candidate, mainstream parties have vowed to maintain their “firewall” pledge not to work with the far right in a ruling coalition.

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