FECL 51 (May/June 1997):

ASYLUM SEEKER ACQUITTED IN LüBECK ARSON TRIAL

A Criminal Court has acquitted the 21 year old Lebanese asylum seeker, Safwan Eid, of the charge of arson in a hostel for asylum seekers in Lübeck that caused the death of ten persons, including several children, in the night of 18 january 1996 and left many others severely injured (see FECL No.46: "Lübeck arson: new evidence of Nazi involvement reflects on investigation authorities"). But the main suspects, four young German right-wing extremists, are still going free.

The president of the Court found that there was no evidence proving Eid's responsibility for the crime.

There is, however, no doubt that the fire was caused by arson, since inflammable substances had been spread in the building.

 

Poor arguments of the prosecution

The public prosecutor had based his charge against Eid, who was a resident of the hostel, on three pillars: the testimony of a rescue worker, J.L., who claims that, on the night of the fire, he heard Eid say: "We did it"; expert reports localising the starting point of the fire in the second floor of the hostel; and, finally, transcripts of recordings obtained by bugging Eid's cell during his detention on remand. According to the public prosecutor, the recordings contain a "confession" of Eid.

The Court refused to admit the transcripts as evidence, and the various experts on fires heard by the Court failed to agree on the starting point of the fire. Thus the only remaining "evidence" consisted in the witness account of the rescue worker, whose trustworthiness was seriously undermined at an early stage of the investigation, when his friendship with a Nazi activist was revealed.

In this uncomfortable situation, the public prosecutor had no other choice but to plead acquittal himself.

 

Charge against Eid a plot of the prosecution and the police?

The fact that, after a trial lasting 9 months, one of the worst cases of arson in German post-war history has not been solved throws an unfavourable light both on the prosecution and the criminal investigation department of the Lübeck police. Already in June 1996, an international committee of eminent jurists expressed strong criticism over the "lack of balance and objectivity" shown by the prosecution in investigating a number of suspects. Mr Eid's lawyers accused the public prosecutor of bias and arbitrariness against their client. They reiterated widespread suspicions that the police and the public prosecutor did not thoroughly investigate a group of suspect young German Nazis and tried to incriminate Eid instead, because, in view of the strong anti-German sentiments triggered by the Lübeck arson, they regarded a young foreigner as the "ideal" perpetrator.

Statements before the Court made by a number of plain-clothes detectives of the Lübeck criminal investigation department revealed a series of astonishing failures, inexplicable "mishaps" and grave omissions that affected the collection of evidence in an irreparable way. Such revelations were not suited to contradicting the lawyers' theory of a veritable plot of the prosecution and the police aimed at the conviction of Eid.

 

Sources: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 1.7.97; our sources.

 

 

Comment

21 year old Safwan Eid has finally obtained the first class acquittal most independent observers of the investigation and the trial predicted long ago. However, immeasurable damage has already been done. For more than a year, the prosecution authorities and much of the German media suggested to the public that the perpetrator of the arson was likely to be found among the former occupants of the hostel, that is the victims. This perception management obviously contributed to spreading further anti-foreigner and racist sentiments among the population. In such a climate, it was easy for the authorities to coldly reject the demand of a number of organisations and personalities, including the courageous mayor of Lübeck, Michael Bouteiller, that all surviving victims of the arson be granted permanent residence in Germany on humanitarian grounds. And it allowed the social democrat government of the state of Schleswig-Holstein to start an administrative procedure against the social democrat mayor of Lübeck, who, moved by the arson, supported a call for civilian disobedience against the government's repressive asylum policies.

Finally the most serious consequence of the scandalous misconduct of the investigation is that the real perpetrators of the arson are still going free.

No wonder then that Nazi attacks have continued in Lübeck in 1997. Unknown perpetrators painted swastikas on the house of the German author, Günther Grass, and on a church, and at the end of June, an arson attack was carried out against a parish hall. There is evidence hinting at "punitive action" by Nazi circles aimed at Lübeck intellectuals and clergymen known for their commitment to the cause of asylum seekers. High time for the Lübeck police to find an "ideal" suspect. Why not an anti-racist pastor or priest, this time?

N.B.