January 3, 2018 / 3:23 PM / 15 days ago

German hate speech law tested as Twitter blocks satire account

BERLIN, Jan 3 (Reuters) - A German satirical magazine’s Twitter account was blocked after it parodied anti-Muslim comments, the publication said on Wednesday, in what the national journalists association said showed the downside of a new law against online hate speech.

Titanic magazine was mocking Beatrix von Storch, a member of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, who accused police of trying “to appease the barbaric, Muslim, rapist hordes of men” by putting out a tweet in Arabic.

Twitter briefly suspended her account and prosecutors are examining if her comments amount to incitement to hatred.

Titanic magazine published its send-up late on Tuesday, in a tweet purporting to be from von Storch to the police, saying: “The last thing that I want is mollified barbarian, Muslim, gang-raping hordes of men.”

Titanic said on Wednesday its Twitter account had been blocked over the message, which it assumed was a result of a law that came into full force on Jan. 1 that can impose fines of up to 50 million euros ($60 million) on social media sites that fail to remove hate speech promptly.

“We are shocked,” Titanic editor Tim Wolff said on the magazine’s website, adding that Chancellor Angela Merkel and Justice Minister Heiko Maas had promised that the new law would not have this kind of effect.

A Twitter spokesman said the company did not comment on individual accounts, for reasons of privacy and security.

The Association of German Journalists (DJV) said the Twitter move amounted to censorship, adding it had warned of this danger when the law was drawn up last year.

“A private company based in the United States decides the boundaries of freedom of the press and opinion in Germany,” DJV Chairman Frank Ueberall said in a statement, calling on parliament to reverse the hate speech law.

Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms are scrambling to adapt to the law, and its implementation is being closely watched after warnings that the threat of fines could prompt websites to block more content than necessary.

Germany has some of the world’s toughest laws on defamation, incitement to commit crimes and threats of violence, with prison sentences for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities.

Merkel’s conservatives accused the AfD of undermining the post-war democratic consensus in Germany.

“The racism that AfD lawmakers have been tweeting for days is intentionally violating, with criminal intent, the basic consensus which democrats have built up since 1949 despite all disagreements,” Armin Laschet, party deputy of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, tweeted.

“By doing this, they want to pave the way to a totally different republic.” ($1 = 0.8317 euros)

Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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