A pair of Chinese tourists were arrested in Berlin yesterday after making the Nazi salute outside the Reichstag. The tourists, both men, aged 36 and 49, fell afoul of Germany’s strict laws against the use of Nazi symbolism while taking pictures of each other on their phones. The offense can be punished with a sentence of up to three years imprisonment.
NPR reports that the men were released after posting bail of €500 (nearly $600) each. The laws, section 86a of the German criminal code, came as part of the massive de-Nazification efforts which followed Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II. Under the laws, displaying any of a variety of symbols or gestures associated with the Nazi regime, including the one-armed salute, the white supremacist Celtic cross, the swastika and the SS runes and death’s head, are all criminal offenses. Laws prohibiting the salute also exist across Austria, Sweden, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland, and several other nations.
A spokesman for the police who spoke to the New York Times said that she didn’t know whether the men remained in Germany. According to the AFP, the spokesman said the two tourists were free to leave Germany while the investigation was carried out, and that should a fine be levied, it would likely be covered by their bail money.
The Chinese tourists’ decision to make the salute outside the Reichstag is also particularly ill-judged, with the building’s destruction in a fire in 1933 leading to the Nazis’ increasing their power in Germany. Last year, two British tourists were arrested in Berlin for pulling the same stunt, once again near the Reichstag, as was a Canadian tourist in 2011, according to the L.A. Times. Germans themselves also fall afoul of the law, with two schoolchildren from Rostock also charged for making Nazi salutes this year. Patricia Braemer, of the Berlin police, said that the law is applicable to everyone.
“We definitely treat this and all similar such cases as a serious violation of the law. The law banning the use of symbols that violate the constitution applies not only to Germans but to everyone in Germany. Anyone coming here ought to know and respect the country’s customs.”
The reaction of Chinese internet users to the arrests has been one of support for the German authorities, reports the South China Morning Post. One user compared the offense to displaying a Japanese wartime flag at Tiananmen Square, adding “go to jail.” The two men are part of a huge wave of Chinese tourists that visit Europe every year. The Mercator Institute For China Studies estimates that 2.2 million Chinese tourists will visit Germany in 2020, the New York Times reports.
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