Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: How clans undermine the German legal system: ‘I know where your sister lives’

“Justice can only come from God,” says Saied after the verdict. “Blood must be repaid by blood.” The sentences handed down by German courts are far too lenient in his view. “So no one should be surprised if people practice vigilante justice.”

Saied, in his early twenties, stands in front of the Frankfurt Regional Court. Inside the trial of young man, who had killed another boy in a confrontation with a knife, had just come to an end. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, taking into account his age.

In the eyes of relatives and friends of the victim this was a mockery. Saied has followed the whole trial. More than forty friends of victim sat in the the audience of the courtroom. “My brother is dead, and the killer may be released after just five years,” says the victim’s brother, who participated as a co-plaintiff in the trial.

Saied comes from Afghanistan. He’s wearing new sneakers and tight jeans, plus a dark blue quilted jacket. He has no interest in Islamic extremists, especially the Salafis. They abuse Islam for the purposes of their own hatreds, he says.  They understand nothing of the Islam.  Nevertheless for him there can be no justice in Germany.

We control affairs amongst ourselves

Many Muslims in Germany would prefer that Islamic judges decide about right and wrong – based on Sharia. It is estimated that 90% of crimes go unrecorded by the German law enforcement authorities in the Muslim population. This is especially the case in Berlin, Bremen and North Rhine-Westphalia. There is talk of Islamic parallel justice – a system that undermines the legal monopoly of the German state.

“There are many Muslims who retreat into a parallel world and accept the Koran as their law,” said Seyran Ates, a lawyer from Berlin, and a district attorney in Weimar. Lawyers, scholars of Islam and immigration officers there have discussed “Sharia: Parallel society, their own judiciary?”

Firsthand experience

Ates has experienced firsthand what can happen when the power of clans put their own legal culture over the German State. Ates, herself of Turkish-Kurdish origin, has experienced violent attacks and threats from adversaries. While working at a Kreuzberg center, and trying to find shelter for Turkish and Kurdish migrants who were victims of domestic violence, she was critically injured by the husband of a client. Ates now no longer wants to work in criminal law, but only with family law cases.

Yet she noted that even then some of the immigrants in Germany shun the German state of law: “The husband of one of my clients came to me in my office and said that in no case would he handle the dispute over the custody of the children before a German court.” He was willing to find a reasonable settlement, Ates further reports, but a German judge should not be involved. He insisted on taking the custody dispute to an Imam. On the court date he did not appear.

“We handle things amongst ourselves”

This case shows the attitude: “We handle things amongst ourselves.” Journalist Joachim Wagner, author of Judges without [German] Law (Richter ohne Gesetz), mentions another example: a clan chief appeared before a German court and told the stunned judges that the issue being negotiated actually fell within his jurisdiction.

He also described another case: An informal judge chosen by the clan issued a clan “warrant of arrest” because the suspect was on the run. This clan warrant required all members of the clan – estimated to be up to 10,000 people, and including members of friendly clans, to seek the man. The suspect was seen on the Costa Brava in Spain, the photo was identified in Berlin, and the suspect was taken to Germany and brought before the magistrate. The German police, says Wagner, had never experienced anything like this case. “The prosecution by the clan judge is sometimes faster and more effectively than our own,” says Wagner.

Twenty-eight arrests after an attack on witnesses

Exact figures on informal clan judges, and information about their activities are difficult to obtain. Those who are subject to its jurisdiction will not generally talk voluntarily with the German authorities. The Islamic associations have largely kept out of this discussion so far.

And for the German prosecutors, it is difficult to look within the clan. “We cannot use ethnic German undercover agents and officers with a migrant background are still in the minority. And the ones that are employed in the police force do not want to be simply chosen on account of their origin and used only in this environment,” said Rainer Wendt, chairman of the German Police union. “Even talking with the clans is difficult because the members often speak a particular Turkish or Arabic dialect, for which there is virtually no translators.”

The difficulty is the lack of interest of these groups in the German jurisdiction, as the case of Saied’s friend showed. There, an acquaintance of the victim had agreed to be a witness a few weeks ago, and he testified in favor of the accused. The clansmen of the victim pursued the witness in the subway and attacked him. Two police officers were finally able to rescue  the witness using pepper spray on the clansmen. Later, the police recognized some of the attackers sitting at the front of the courtroom and there were 28 arrests.

Nervousness at the Frankfurt Regional Court

In January two men were killed out of revenge in the Frankfurt Regional Court case. The two victims had been forced to answer for the brother of the victims’s death but had been acquitted because the court could not rule out self-defence.

Since then they are nervous at the Frankfurt Regional Court. Security measures have been tightened. In the trial,  because of the death of Saied’s friend a large contingent of police was ready. A policeman outside the courtroom told, this escalation is hard to separate from the judiciary.  “Boys generally have lost all respect for the government.”  These young people will recognize authority only within their own group.  “We have lost a whole generation.”

“A wall of fear and silence”

In the courtroom, conditions were tumultuous. Hecklers disrupted the negotiations. That the situation in Frankfurt escalated so much is remarkable.  The Code of Criminal Procedure gives tools to the judges in such cases to get the situation under control.  A judge may send annoying people out of the courtroom and demand that the audience refrain from applause or making noises of disapproval. If the judge is not respected however,  such demands are ignored.

In addition, the judge may carry out other punishments. He may impose of a fine of €1000 and an order imprisonment of up to one week. And a good defender for his client always advises people quietly to behave and beseech his friends and relatives to do likewise.

“We have the power”

Worse damage occurs during the investigation, however, because of the well-organized parallel structures. In the worst scenario, an indictment cannot be handed out because the witnesses refuse to speak or withdraw their testimony.

“If a clan judge is involved in a case, the witnesses develop convenient memory lapses,” says the Berlin criminal defense lawyer Dirk Lammer. “It hurts to see that months of investigative work going down the drain because witnesses do not want to testify,” says the police union, Rainer Wendt. “We must agree the clan members,  who smirk and grin and then go out and say, ‘We have the power here’”