N-Word: Noah Becker‘s victory in Berlin and the setback in Magdeburg

The State Constitutional Court of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Landesverfassungsgericht Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), sitting in Magdeburg, ruled on 19 December that sanctioning an AfD member of the state parliament, Nikolaus Kramer, over the use of the word “neger” during a debate in the house amounted to a restriction of his right to free expression.

Kramer had taken the leadership of the state parliament to court for calling him to order for his repeated use of the N-word during a debate on asylum-seekers in October 2018.

The judges attempted to justify the scandalous verdict by claiming that the word “neger” could only serve to provoke or disparage others depending on the context in which it’s used. In effect, the court legalises the use of “neger” to describe people of African descent.

However, a subsisting Berlin court judgement in the case of Noah Becker versus Jens Maier had established that the N-Word is a derogatory one. 

In January 2018, Jens Maier called Noah Becker, son of German tennis legend Boris Becker, a “kleiner Halbneger” (“little half-negro”) on Twitter. Noah’s mother, Barbara Becker, is the daughter of an African-American and a German.

Maier, a former judge and current AfD member of the federal parliament (Bundestag), had attacked Noah Becker over an interview in which he had complained about being seen as the “eternal son” of his famous father and that Berlin was a white city, among others.

Following the public outcry that greeted the racist tweet, the public prosecutor of Dresden, Maier’s home city, set into motion a process of filing criminal charges against him. However, Maier’s personal assistant said he and not his boss wrote the tweet even though on Maier’s personal tweeter handle. The public prosecutor therefore decided not to press charges against Maier ostensibly because his assistant had already taken responsibility.

Since the public prosecutor had refused to act, Noah Becker sued Maier for criminal defamation in a Berlin court, demanding 15,000 euros in damages (Schmerzensgeld), maintaining that Maier should be held responsible for posts on his social media accounts. Becker had earlier demanded that the right-wing extremist politician donate 7,500 euros to a charity. In return, Becker would have waived his claims for the pain and suffering he incurred as a result of the tweet. Maier refused the offer.

Jens Maier suffered defeat at a Berlin district court (Landgericht) in January 2019, as he was ordered to pay 15,000 euros to Becker in addition to bearing his legal costs.

The AfD man rejected the judgement and vowed to appeal and, if need be, go as far as the Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof), the highest instance in civil and criminal matters.

The two parties however reached an agreement during the hearing at the Berlin Court of Appeal (Kammergericht Berlin) in July 2019, which “basically confirms” the claims for pain and suffering of Becker over the racist tweet and “affirmed Maier’s personal liability”.

Maier offered to pay 7,500 euros to Noah Becker instead of 15,000 euros as earlier ordered by the district court and in addition bear Becker’s legal costs. Becker accepted the offer because his objective was not to make money out of the case but to “send a strong signal against racism” in Germany, his lawyer explained. He emphasized that there was no need to discuss if the term “neger” was discriminatory. It is and it also constitutes a serious violation of the personal rights of his client.

It was reported in early September that Jens Maier had paid the money to Becker.

In an interview with SPIEGEL, Maier’s lawyer said he and his client reached a settlement on the advice of the court because “it’s the wiser option” considering the cost risks of continued litigation. In effect, Maier chickened out after realising the futility of his case.

The legal settlement reached by both parties, which has the force of a court verdict, ends the argument that started in early 2018 over if the word “neger” is a derogatory word. It is.

It now begs the question why the court in Magdeburg made its scandalous judgment in view of the Berlin precedent ruling? If it’s not a firm legal precedent, it’s at least a moral one.

Claiming that the word “neger” could only serve to disparage others depending on the context in which it’s used, the court opens the door wide for the disparagement of members of a group, numbering about 1 million in Germany. There’s no context in which the N-Word could be used other than a derogatory one.

Activists in Germany’s Black community are currently consulting on how best to challenge the verdict as not doing so would have a negative lasting impact on people of African descent in the country.

Meanwhile, the online petition campaign, titled Rechtliche Anerkennung dass der Begriff „Neger“ rassistisch ist! for the legal classification of the N-word as racist in Germany, by Charlotte Nzimiro has already been signed by more than 80,000 supporters. The petition – addressed to the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht), State Constitutional Court of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the Federal Minister for Families, Women and Youths, and the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes) – has set a target of 150,000 supporters.

“Let us insist that the term is classified as racist in Germany and that the use of the N-word should no longer be normal!” Ms Nzimiro appealed.

“We are part of this society and, like every other citizen, have a right to human dignity and equality, which are attacked by this judgment and gives racism in Germany even more scope for expression,” she said.

Femi Awoniyi

To sign the petition, click here


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