Turkish paper eyes legal fight over German neo-Nazi trial access

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 04, 2013 1:56 PM

By Alexandra Hudson

BERLIN (Reuters) - A Turkish newspaper said on Thursday it would complain to Germany's highest court over media access to a trial of suspected neo-Nazis blamed for the murder of eight Turks, in a row that has embarrassed the German government.

With one of Germany's most anticipated trials in years set to start on April 17, a Munich court allocated 50 guaranteed seats to media on a first-come-first-served basis, without including a single Turkish journalist.

The court said reporters could queue for another 50-60 places each day. But Turkish newspaper Sabah said it would take its call for access to Germany's constitutional court.

German politicians, media and the country's Turkish community have accused the Munich court of insensitivity, with the minister of state for migration and integration calling the situation a potential national embarrassment.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle over the weekend he expected Turkish media and government representatives to be present at the trial. While the German government has expressed understanding, it has said it cannot interfere in court affairs.

"In our opinion the decision by the Munich regional court violates the principle of equality, and our client's right to press freedom," said lawyer Ralf Hoecker, representing Sabah.

"We aim to file a suit with the constitutional court by Friday at the latest," said Mikdat Karaalioglu, editor-in-chief of Sabah Europe.

The Munich court's decision threatens to become the latest in a series of missteps by German authorities over the murders blamed on a previously unknown group called the National Socialist Underground (NSU), discovered in late 2011.

An inquiry revealed botched investigations, failure to consider racist motives for the killings between 2000 and 2007, a lack of communication between Germany's intelligence services and a failure to properly monitor members of neo-Nazi groups.

The court defended its action, saying it had warned it would allocate seats in order of application and it was not legally possible to broadcast proceedings to an additional room.

Constitutional law expert Ulrich Battis told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper a suit had good prospects: "I can imagine that the court would use it as an opportunity to point out that the relevant laws could be interpreted more generously."

The Munich court's attitude, considering all that is at stake, was "absurd" he said.

The focus of the trial will be a 38-year-old woman, Beate Zschaepe, accused of being an NSU founder and of involvement in the murders. Four suspected male accomplices are also on trial.

The existence of the cell came to light by chance when two members committed suicide after a botched bank robbery and when Zschaepe allegedly set fire to an apartment used by the gang.

At a memorial ceremony last year, Chancellor Angela Merkel begged the families for forgiveness for Germany's failings and pledged to take action against neo-Nazis.

(Editing by Jason Webb)