The first confrontation

Published 07.05.2013 00:00
Updated 07.05.2013 10:04

The highly anticipated trial for a series of neo-Nazi murders in Germany, in which eight out of ten victims were Turks, began in Munich on Monday. Yesterday’s trial saw the tension of recusation, protests outside of the courthouse and marked the first time the victims loved ones came face to face with chief suspect the “Nazi Bride” Beate Zschaepe.

Considered to be one of the most anticipated court cases in recent German history, the National Socialist Underground (NSU) trial began Monday. The trial in Munich will focus on 38-year-old Beate Zschaepe, who is charged with complicity in the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman in Germany between the years 2000-2007. The start of the "trial of the century" which was delayed from April 17 to May 6 due to errors in the accreditation process, was followed closely by the German and greater global press. Considered to be one of the most anticipated court cases in recent German history, yesterday's hearing marked the first time chief suspect Beate Zschaepe was confronted by the families of their victims. At times the protests staged outside of the courthouse escalated into tension with police who had taken wide safety measures to secure the vicinity.


* The historic trial began at 10:25 Monday morning. Chief suspect Beate Zschaepe was brought to the courthouse in an armored vehicle, however other than that she had no visible restraints. Wearing an elegant trouser-suit and an air of defiance, the suspected surviving member of a German neo-Nazi cell strode into the Munich court on Monday without handcuffs and carrying a laptop. Zschaepe is charged with complicity in the shooting of eight Turks, a Greek and a German policewoman in towns across Germany between 2000 and 2007, as well as arson, two bombings in immigrant areas of Cologne and 15 bank robberies. She faces life imprisonment. Zschaepe appeared in court with her long, glossy hair worn loose and with large hoop earrings, in sharp contrast to the surly mugshots that have been splashed over German media. She chatted frequently with her defense lawyers, sharing gum, tossing her head and occasionally smiling. The "Nazi Bride" spent most of the time with her back to the press and family members of the victims. Her nonchalant stance however infuriated Dilek Özcan, the daughter of the NSU cell's sixth victim İsmail Yaşar who was killed in Nurnberg in 2006. "I initially began shaking out of anger. To see Zschaepe's comfortable and spoiled attitude awoke deep feelings of hatred. However, I am sure she will be served the punishment she deserves," said Özcan.

* The four other male defendants charged with assisting the NSU were more casually dressed, one entering in sunglasses. Andre E. was seated in the front row with Zschaepe while Ralf Wohlleben sat in the middle row and Carsten S. and Holger G. took seats in the farthest row. All three of Zschaepe's attorneys were present while two attorneys each took the defense for the remaining four suspects. Although not all intervening parties were present at yesterday's hearing, the families of the case's most symbolic victims, the Yozgat family, the Şimşek family, the Özüdoğru family and Gamze Kubaşık were in attendance,


* Outside the high-security court room, where dozens had queued from before dawn to secure one of the few public places, hundreds of police stood guard, clashing briefly with protesters who said they had a right to follow one of Germany's most hotly-anticipated court cases. Outside the courthouse German-Turkish community groups and anti-racism demonstrators held up banners including one that read: "Hitler-child Zschaepe, you will pay for your crimes".

* While 50 journalists were accredited to have reserved seats in the court room, 25 additional journalists who were not accredited and three of which were Turks, were able to wrangle their way into the courtroom as audience members. Hundreds of journalists followed the case from outside and television channels began broadcasting the trial live hours before it even commenced.


* For the victims' families, the trial's opening was a difficult encounter with a woman whose resolute silence since her arrest has left people struggling to make sense of her motives. A day of legal procedural wrangling was also a disappointment for families who have waited for years to find out the truth. Defense lawyers immediately challenged the presiding judge's impartiality for ordering them but not some other participants to be searched thoroughly before entering the Munich court. "This implies the defense lawyers are so stupid they might bring forbidden objects into the court," said attorney Wolfgang Stahl, adding that Judge Manfred Goetzl seemed to suspect the defense team might pose a security threat.


* Semiya Şimşek, the daughter of the NSU's first victim flower shop owner Enver Şimşek, said they have been waiting for this trial to begin for 13 years now. "I have lost all trust in Germany," stated Şimşek who went on to state, "I have so many questions. Why my father? Was it a coincidence? According to what criteria did they choose their victims?" Şimşek also questioned the justification behind security forces treating the families of the victims as if they were suspects at the time of the murder.

* Turkey's Berlin Ambassador Hüseyin Avni Karslıoğlu spoke with the victims' family members and told reporters that they are extremely disappointed that the indictment was not read and the trial was adjourned.


* The trial of 38-year-old Beate Zschaepe was adjourned until May 14th, after defense lawyers delivered motions objecting to the court's chief judge, accusing him of bias. The court will now consider those motions. According to Turkey's Grand National Assembly Human Rights Inspection Commission Chairman Ayhan Sefer Üstün, defense prosecutors are now using a tactic of deliberation. "First, the defense lawyers objected to the judicial committee. The court in turn rejected this objection and now the remaining defense lawyers are objecting to the court by purporting similar reasons. This will go on until each defense lawyer has run out of things to say," said Üstün explaining that only then will the trial move on to the reading of the indictment and hearing witness testimonies. "This trial will come to an end. The fact that it has begun is pleasing, because all that possibly could have happened to delay it has. What matters most is that the court reaches a just verdict. This is what we will be waiting on and closely following the case for," said Üstün.

This is a translation of an article originally written by Mikdat Karalıoğlu, İsmail Erel and Rahmi Turan with wires.

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