Germany is Sending the ‘Sharia Police’ to Trial

Wearing uniforms with political messages can lead to jail time in Germany.

epa05064609 A photograph made avaiable on 11 Dcember 2015 showing a man looking at a police report in Colonge, Germany on 05 August 2014 which displays Sharia police patrolling the streets of Wuppertal, Germany. The appearance of Islamists as 'Sharia police' in Wuppertal has not been a criminal offense the local district court's ruled on 09 December 2015. They had not violated laws on uniforms and public gatherings and the bright orange-visibility vests with the inscription 'Shariah-Police' is not intimidating, militant action, the court said.
epa05064609 A photograph made avaiable on 11 Dcember 2015 showing a man looking at a police report in Colonge, Germany on 05 August 2014 which displays Sharia police patrolling the streets of Wuppertal, Germany. The appearance of Islamists as 'Sharia police' in Wuppertal has not been a criminal offense the local district court's ruled on 09 December 2015. They had not violated laws on uniforms and public gatherings and the bright orange-visibility vests with the inscription 'Shariah-Police' is not intimidating, militant action, the court said.
epa05064609 A photograph made avaiable on 11 Dcember 2015 showing a man looking at a police report in Colonge, Germany on 05 August 2014 which displays Sharia police patrolling the streets of Wuppertal, Germany. The appearance of Islamists as 'Sharia police' in Wuppertal has not been a criminal offense the local district court's ruled on 09 December 2015. They had not violated laws on uniforms and public gatherings and the bright orange-visibility vests with the inscription 'Shariah-Police' is not intimidating, militant action, the court said.

In September 2014, a group of young Germans donned orange safety vests emblazoned with “Sharia police” and took their puritanical view of Islam to the streets of Wuppertal. For several nights, they accosted patrons of the western German city’s nightclubs and casinos and handed out leaflets extolling the virtues of Sharia law.

They were soon arrested and accused of “violating laws against wearing uniforms with political messages,” but a district court dismissed the charges.

This week, a higher court overturned that decision after an appeal from prosecutors. Eight of the nine accused men can now face trial on the grounds that they violated Germany’s ban on political uniforms, a law first passed in 1932 in a futile attempt to prohibit Nazis from wearing their symbolic brown shirts.

In September 2014, a group of young Germans donned orange safety vests emblazoned with “Sharia police” and took their puritanical view of Islam to the streets of Wuppertal. For several nights, they accosted patrons of the western German city’s nightclubs and casinos and handed out leaflets extolling the virtues of Sharia law.

They were soon arrested and accused of “violating laws against wearing uniforms with political messages,” but a district court dismissed the charges.

This week, a higher court overturned that decision after an appeal from prosecutors. Eight of the nine accused men can now face trial on the grounds that they violated Germany’s ban on political uniforms, a law first passed in 1932 in a futile attempt to prohibit Nazis from wearing their symbolic brown shirts.

Sven Lau, a German convert to Salafism and ringleader of the so-called “Sharia police,” was arrested last December under suspicion of sending money and recruits to a Syrian rebel group with ties to the Islamic State.

After the initial furor over his nighttime patrols, Lau said his goal was to provoke the public, admitting “we knew that this would raise attention.”

The publicity ruse was met with disapproval from Muslim advocacy groups in Germany. “These people are perverting the name of our religion. With this shrill and foolish action, they are really hurting Muslims,” the chairman of one such group told a German newspaper when the controversy first came to light.

Germany’s acceptance of some 1.1 million refugees in 2015, most of them Muslims from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, has led to a backlash against Islam from the right.

On Sunday, for example, the right-wing political party Alternative for Germany, which took between 10 and 14 percent of the vote in recent regional elections, adopted as its policy platform the banning of minarets, face veils, and the call to prayer.

Image credit: OLIVER BERG/EPA

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

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