Eight out of nine young men convicted of gang-raping a heavily intoxicated 15-year-old girl in a Hamburg city park will not face prison time, in a verdict that has sparked widespread outrage in Germany and threats against the judge and lawyers involved in the case.
Hamburg Regional Court last week sentenced a 19-year-old to a youth prison sentence of two years and nine months without parole, while youth sentences of one to two years’ probation, or so-called pre-parole, were imposed on eight men, Spiegel reported.
A tenth defendant was acquitted.
Of the eight who escaped prison time, four of the youth sentences were suspended on probation with strict conditions and “instructions for educational support”, while a decision on enforcement of the other four youth sentences was deferred for six months.
Hamburg city park in Germany. Picture: Marcus Brandt/dpa
The judgments are not yet final.
The 10 accused had been charged with raping the girl during a two-and-a-half-hour ordeal on the night of September 19, 2020.
An eleventh defendant, who was charged with aiding and abetting and filming the rape, was acquitted in April this year.
The girl had attended a party in the park, which had become a popular meeting area during Covid, on the day of the attack.
According to prosecutors, four of the men led the girl, who had a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.16 per cent, into a bush and performed sexual acts on her against her will.
One of them stole her mobile phone and wallet.
Another two defendants then took advantage of the girl’s confused state and raped her, and when she wandered across the grass again she ran into another of the defendants who also raped her.
The 15-year-old girl was raped in September 2020. Picture: Marcus Brandt/dpa
Finally, three other defendants then took the girl into the bushes.
One of those, a 23-year-old, was acquitted as the court could not determine whether all three raped her.
Because the perpetrators were aged between 17 and 21 at the time, the case was conducted by a youth chamber and the public was excluded from the proceedings.
The trial began on May 10 last year and ran for 68 days, with the court hearing from 96 witnesses and several experts.
While there were no direct witnesses, DNA evidence connected nine of the defendants to the crime.
The presiding judge described it as a “mammoth circumstantial trial in which it was not clear for a long time what had happened on the night of September 19th to 20th, 2020”, Spiegel reported.
The court heard that two videos were filmed, of the first and last rapes, but that both videos were irretrievably deleted shortly after the crime and were not available to investigators.
Psychiatrist Nahlah Saimeh. Picture: X
According to Spiegel, four of the men have German nationality, another four have Armenian, Afghan, Kuwaiti and Montenegrin nationality, and the nationality of the other two had not been clarified by the court.
The outlet reports six of the men were born in Hamburg, and the others were born in Poland, Egypt, Libya, Kuwait and Iran.
Prosecutors had sought sentences of between one year and three months to three years for nine of the defendants, while defence lawyers sought acquittal for all 10.
According to Spiegel, under juvenile criminal law in Germany the length of youth sentences is based on the educational needs of the individual defendant.
The court heard none of the defendants had committed sexual offences before or had previously faced a youth sentence.
Psychiatrist Nahlah Saimeh, who reportedly appeared before the court as an expert witness, said in a controversial interview with Spiegel that the gang rape may have been a way to vent “frustration” due to “migration experiences and sociocultural homelessness”.
Protesters in Cologne, 2016, after mass sexual assaults. Picture: Roberto Pfeil/AFP
Dr Saimeh said perpetrators “who live on the margins of society, completely uprooted culturally, linguistically and socially” could face a “mix of emotions of anger, sadness, powerlessness, depression, fantasies of grandeur as a compensation attempt to cope with one’s own misery, and drug use”.
“Disordered, unprepared migration experiences and sociocultural homelessness increase the risk of addiction and psychosis,” she said.
“Sex is also a means of venting frustration and anger, a means of warding off sadness and emptiness, and in a group of men with the same fate it also creates identity and strengthens the group feeling.”
She added, “The victim becomes a pure instrument for their own sexual gratification. It’s about an immediate need, opportunity, inner conviction and the right of the stronger.”
As outrage at the verdict spread, court officials and lawyers have complained of a flood of hateful comments, personal attacks, insults and threats on social media.
Threats have been made against the judge in the case. Picture: Getty Images
“We are observing the hostility in connection with the proceedings and the verdict with great concern,” Kai Wantzen, spokesman for Hamburg Regional Court, told Spiegelon Friday.
“The hate messages currently being spread, which have far left the ground of a factual dispute and in many cases reach the level of criminal law, have … reached a new, worrying level in terms of intensity and volume.”
Hamburg Working Group for Criminal Defense Lawyers chairman Arne Timmermann told the outlet that lawyers involved in the proceedings were being threatened on social media, in emails and phone calls.
He criticised the Spiegel interview with Dr Saimeh, saying she had created a “general profile of perpetrators” but that in the current case “almost all of the defendants speak perfect German … are devout Christians and do voluntary social work”.
The Hamburg Judges Association said it was dismayed by the “unbearable agitation against a colleague who had fulfilled the task assigned to her under the (law) in this difficult case”.
“The calls for violence against the judge — which also have an anti-migrant background — are completely unbearable,” chairwoman Heike Hummelmeier told Spiegel.