In an apparent attempt to sweep under the rug a recent double homicide in Hamburg, Germany, authorities there censored the story. They also raided the apartments of a witness who filmed a video describing the murder, and a blogger who posted the video on YouTube.
The murder, which made headlines worldwide, occurred on the morning of April 12. The assailant, Mourtala Madou, a 33-year-old illegal immigrant from Niger, stabbed his German ex-girlfriend, identified as Sandra P., and their one-year-old daughter, Miriam, at a Hamburg subway station. The child died at the scene; her mother died later, at the hospital. The woman's three-year-old son witnessed the murders.
According to the prosecutor's office, Madou -- who initially fled the scene, but then called the police and was arrested shortly thereafter -- acted "out of anger and revenge," because the day before the incident, the court had denied him joint custody of his daughter.
It later emerged that for months Madou had been threatening to harm Sandra P. and the baby. A senior public prosecutor told reporters that the police investigated the woman's charges, but had concluded that the "threats were not meant seriously" and did not pursue the case.
Furthermore, half a year earlier, in October 2017, a judge revoked a restraining order that Sandra P. had obtained against Madou two months earlier, on the grounds that he saw "no evidence" that Madou had threatened her. That was when Madou's threats increased and he explicitly announced: "I'm going to kill our daughter, and then I kill you!"
A detail of the murders that has never officially been revealed, is that Madou apparently attempted to decapitate the baby. This detail was mentioned by a commuter -- Ghanaese citizen Daniel J., a gospel singer at an evangelical church in Hamburg -- who happened to arrive at the subway station moments after the attack and filmed the scene on his phone. In the video, police officers can be seen questioning witnesses, and paramedics are surrounding what appears to be the baby girl. Daniel J. says, in English, "Oh my God. It's unbelievable. Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, oh Jesus. They cut off the head of the baby. Oh my God. Oh Jesus."
Heinrich Kordewiner, a blogger from Hamburg who discovered the video on Daniel J.'s Facebook page, uploaded it to YouTube.
A few days later, a team of state prosecutors and officers of the cybercrime unit of the Hamburg police arrived at Kordewiner's apartment with a search warrant, and confiscated his computer, mobile phone and other electronics, allegedly to find "evidence" of the "crime". He was -- and still is -- accused of: uploading the video.
Kordewiner and his flatmate told Gatestone about the raid, which took place at 6.45 a.m. They recounted that when they first refused to open the door, police forced it open -- and even searched the flatmate's room, although it was apparently not covered by the search warrant.
"The police officer said that he could also search for SD (secure digital) cards," the flatmate told Gatestone. "While he fumbled through the books on my shelf, he suggested that he could turn my whole apartment upside down. He told me to relax."
According to the search warrant, Kordewiner is accused of having "invaded the private sphere" of the murder victim, in breach of §201a of Germany's Criminal Code. This so-called "paparazzi paragraph" -- the legislation of which was launched by Heiko Maas (currently Germany's Foreign Minister), who as Minister of Justice was responsible for Germany's internet censorship law -- is a barely known and rarely applied law, passed in 2015. Among other things, it makes it illegal to take pictures that "display someone in a helpless situation." Supposedly aimed at protecting victims of traffic accidents from being filmed by curious onlookers, the law was already highly controversial when it was debated in 2014, and journalist associations criticized it for jeopardizing freedom of the press.
When the German parliament debated the law, one of the 10 experts invited to give their opinions on the matter was Ulf Bornemann, head of the "Hate and Incitement" department of Hamburg's public prosecution office. A former MP and member of the East German civil rights movement, Vera Lengsfeld, wrote at the time that Bornemann was the only one to embrace the law without reservations: "Why," she reported he had said, "should the data of a supposed inciter be protected?"
In a written statement, Bornemann praised the censorship law for sending "a clear political message that the administration is willing to act against hate crime in social networks." Bornemann was also part of the team that raided Kordewiner's apartment.
The stated reason for the raid -- a breach of privacy rights -- is flimsy. Only the victim's feet can be seen in the video, and even those for only a brief moment. As the daily newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt pointed out, the footage "is blurred, taken from a distance and doesn't allow the identification of any person."
Meanwhile, the German publication Welt online posted a video that shows close-up footage of the victim -- something that did not spur state prosecutors into action. The main difference between the two videos seems to be the verbal comment on the beheading in Daniel J's video. The alleged breach of "privacy rights," then, would appear to be a pretext.
"We don't comment on this rumor," state prosecutor Nana Frombach said to Gatestone when asked about the beheading. All she was willing to acknowledge was that the child had suffered "severe neck injuries." When Gatestone said that §201a could not be applied to the video in question because it did not show anybody's face, she replied that this had "yet to be decided," and that the raid was based on an "initial suspicion." Gatestone then mentioned that Kordewiner, instead of uploading the video anonymously (which would have been easy for him to do), had uploaded it to his YouTube channel, along with his full name and address, rendering the raid's stated goal of "finding evidence" not merely disproportionate but entirely unnecessary. Frombach said that she was not allowed to "comment on details of an ongoing investigation," but that she could "guarantee" that the search warrant had been "approved by a judge."
How can any journalist, under such censorship, report the news? Would it be illegal to film the scene of a terrorist attack? Frombach said that she could "not tell" whether this would still be legal in today's Germany. "I can only judge specific cases, not ones that lie in the future," she said.
The libertarian website Achse des Guten (Axis of the Good) was the first media outlet to report the raid. Two days later, the daily Hamburger Abendblatt wrote:
"Hamburg's state prosecutor rabidly prosecutes a blogger who has published pictures of the tragedy at Jungfernstieg... The raid was based on paragraph 201a, a law that the council of the press and journalist associations view as being problematic with regard to free reporting."
The Abendblatt criticized the "nebulous phrasing" of the law and the "even more nebulous interpretation by the state prosecutor," stating, "The law stipulates that no pictures of helpless persons may be taken. However, the cell phone footage does not show such persons."
According to the Abendblatt, sources "from within the security apparatus" had been "surprised" by the raids of the homes of the blogger and Daniel J. The state prosecutor who ordered the raids had been "very hot on this case," these sources said, and was "shooting out of cannons into sparrows... it is surprising how quickly the search warrant was issued, given the high obstacles we face every day, even when dealing with serious crime."
In an accompanying comment, Abendblatt editor Matthias Iken called the raid "foolish," because "it supports the conspiracy theories of right-wingers." Where, he asked, "do the prohibitions start? And where do they stop?"
In the meantime, the incriminated video has been deleted from all German websites and made inaccessible for German visitors to YouTube (although Germans can still view it on websites that are out of reach of the German authorities).
If it was indeed the authorities' plan to censor the news and keep the information of the beheading under wraps, then it backfired. Due to the reports about the raid, thousands of people have seen the video, and hundreds of thousands have heard about the botched censorship attempt. Even worse for the would-be censors, they unwittingly revealed the very detail that they wanted to keep from the public. This is because the search warrant -- a copy of which was handed to Kordewiner -- happens to provide a detailed account of the murders. It elaborates that Madou had "wanted to punish the mother of the child" and "enforce his claim to power and ownership." With an "intent to kill," Madou "suddenly" took a "knife from the backpack he was carrying, stabbed the child in the belly and then almost completely cut through the neck."
The office of the state prosecutor is under the authority of Hamburg's state government, a coalition of Social Democrats and the Green Party. The state's Minister of Justice, Till Steffen, is a member of the Green Party and has for years been accused of being behind many scandals in his ministry. Among these are that alleged murderers repeatedly have had to be released from pre-trial detention because their trials have taken too long. In 2016, Steffen prevented police from sharing pictures of the Berlin truck terrorist, Anis Amri when he was still at large, out of fear that sharing images of jihadist terror suspects could incite racial hatred.
Censorship in Parliament
Hamburg's government is still trying to conceal the beheading. This became clear when, in May, MPs of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) made a parliamentary enquiry about the police raid and details of the murder case. Among other things, they wanted to know whether the child had been beheaded. The administration -- in breach of its constitutional duty -- refused to answer. It also censored the questions by blacking out whole sentences. The newspaper Die Welt noted: "That the text of an enquiry and the questions are blackened out without consultation" is something "that almost never happens."
When Gatestone contacted Alexander Wolf, one of the MPs who made the enquiry, to find out what exactly was censored, he sent the original enquiry (the first two pages from the left) as well as the senate's answer (pages 3, 4 and 5) in which parts of the questions were censored. Every hint of a beheading that might have taken place was blacked out, as was the link to the article that first broke the news about the beheading and the subsequent police raid. Wolf told Gatestone:
"In the session of the interior committee, the Senator of the Interior and the responsible state prosecutor both replied very evasively to the repeated questions of our speaker, Dirk Nockemann, and imputed a lack of respect [for the murder victim]. In my opinion, this was designed to cause indignation against the enquirer on the part of the other MPs. Apparently, the Senator wants to sweep the issue under the rug."
The speakers of the other opposition parties were also contacted by Gatestone: Dennis Gladiator of the Christian-Democrats (CDU) and Anna von Treuenfels-Frowein of the centrist Free Democrat Party (FDP). Treuenfeld-Frowein replied:
"Of course, the public has a right to information. But for us as a party committed to the rule of law, personal rights do not end with death. We therefore consider the decision to black out parts of the enquiry to be appropriate. Right now, there is no need to make details of the crime public."
Gladiator did not respond to Gatestone's repeated requests for comment.
Why the beheading should be kept a secret is anyone's guess. What has become clear is how easily authorities in Germany can censor the news and punish bloggers who spread undesired information. They have a vast toolbox of laws at their disposal. It does not seem to bother them that the law invoked in this case stipulates explicitly that it shall not be applied to the "reporting of contemporary events." The state prosecutor, however, argues that this murder case – which was reported, among others, in France, India, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States – does not constitute such a "contemporary event."
"For Hamburg's ministry of justice," the Abendblatt wrote, "the double murder is a crime of passion that must not be of any interest to the public."
Stefan Frank is a journalist and author based in Germany.