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Court Cases

A series of missteps preceded the NSU trial

As legal proceedings get underway against the right-wing extremist group National Socialist Underground (NSU), the Munich court handling the case already has many turbulent weeks behind it.

A placard displays victims of the NSU murders
Photo: Stefan Sauer dpa/lmv +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

A placard displays victims of the NSU murders

The trial against the alleged right-wing terrorist Beate Zschäpe along with four others accused of supporting the terrorist group National Socialist Underground (NSU) was supposed to get underway on April 17 - but was delayed to allow the court to reallocate seats for journalists. Zschäpe is the sole surviving member of the NSU trio that authorities believe murdered nine German residents with Turkish and Greek roots and a German police woman between 2000 and 2007.

The NSU trial represents one of the biggest terrorism trials ever to take place in Germany and has drawn worldwide attention. However, none of the few courtroom seats available to journalists initially went to foreign journalists. Only the first 50 journalists to request access secured one of the highly-sought spots, in the order in which their applications were received.

The cover of German-Turkish paper Hürriyet
(c) Daniel Naupold/dpa

German-Turkish paper "Hürriyet" initially did not receive a courtroom seat

Controversial moves

In the first allocation of press access, Turkish media were also among those shut out. But Turkey has a particular interest in the trial, since eight of the murder victims had Turkish roots.

The court's handling of the role of the media - particularly in Turkey - was problematic and lacking in sensitivity, admits former Vice President of Germany's Federal Constitutional Court, Winfried Hassemer.

"A court doesn't hold this sort of trial every day," Hassemer said in an interview with DW.

The Turkish newspaper "Sabah" ultimately sued over the controversial allocation process, demanding a certain number of seats go to foreign media and Turkish media in particular.

Judges ruled in favor of "Sabah" just days before the trial was set to begin in mid-April, and the press seats had to be redistributed in a complicated lottery system. The result was a three-week delay for the trial's start.

Gamze Kubasik holds pictures of her father, who was killed by the NSU terrorist group
Copyright: DW/Andrea Grunau

The trial's delay was a disturbing shock for Gamze Kubasik

Shock and anger

But family members of NSU victims and their attorneys found out about the delay first from the media. Around 40 minutes later came a fax from Munich's highest court confirming the reports, said Sebastian Scharmer, one of the lawyers involved, in an interview with DW. He is representing Gamze Kubasik, the daughter of Mehmet Kubasik, who was allegedly murdered in 2006 by the NSU.

Scharmer reports that his client was shocked and angry. "She was stunned and, I must say, quite mad - the latter particularly because we found out about it from the media," he said.

Political scientist Hajo Funke believes the reaction from the victims' relatives is understandable, saying, "The victims' families are having a hard time anyway because they were initially not taken seriously for over ten years, and in some cases, rather gruff methods were used in investigations against them."

Cameras film the scene where seats for media representatives were decided in a lottery system
(c) Peter Kneffel/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Press seats were redistributed in a second accreditation process

Funke: Don't overstate things

But the second accreditation process for journalists also brought its share of controversy. Media were divided into various groups and subcategories, and there were well over 300 applications for 50 seats. Last Monday (29.04.2013), a notary oversaw the process as names were drawn from various colorful plastic boxes.

And then came the next faux pas: A journalist's name was drawn although he had already written in to withdraw his application. A few days later, an additional drawing was held to fill his spot. Funke argues one should not overstate the series of missteps, though.

"Those are instances of pigheadedness, insensitivity and bureaucratic inconsistencies. One person didn't know what someone else had done - such things happen," Funke said, noting that he believes in the rule of law.

Looking through a glass window in the Munich court room where the trial will be held
(c) Andreas Gebert/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

The state of Bavaria's State Appeals Court (OLG) in Munich will hear the trial

Questions on court's timeline

Critics have also voiced opposition to the planned sequence of the trial. More than 600 witnesses are on the agenda so far, but just 45 minutes have been set aside to question them in some cases. Hajo Funke says that is far too little time. A lot will now depend on the chief judge Manfred Götzl. On the other hand, Funke notes that he is known for pushing his own agenda and "apparently able to do so without being overturned by appeals."

The legal expert Winfried Hassemer believes too much attention is being paid to the Munich court's proposed schedule. "The judge does not have to stick to an exact program like in soccer; instead, he's tasked with finding out the truth," the former judge explains.

On Monday (06.05.2013), the NSU trial is set to begin in Munich. German citizens have high expectations. In a survey conducted by the magazine "Stern," 42 percent of Germans said successfully prosecuting those involved in the neo-Nazi murders could improve their country's image in the world.

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