Germany Threatens to Imprison Romani Activist

12 November 2001

On November 12, 2001, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a letter to German Prime Minister Gerhard Schruder, copied to the President of the German Parliament and the President of the German Constitutional Court, to express concern that Romani activist Rudolf Kawczynski is presently threatened with a jail sentence, in connection with a minor offence he allegedly committed during a non-violent protest in 1990 against German anti-foreigner policies and practices. In its letter, the ERRC noted that the prosecution of Mr Kawczynski for such activities by German authorities constitutes an impermissible infringement on his right to the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, protected by Articles 19 and 21 respectively of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The ERRC is concerned that Mr Kawczynski may soon become a prisoner of conscience in Europe's largest democracy. The text of the ERRC letter to Prime Minister Schrüder follows:

Honourable Prime Minister Schrüder,

The ERRC is deeply concerned at reports it has received in recent weeks that German authorities intend to imprison Mr Rudolf Kawczynski for non-violent political activity in which he engaged in 1990.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mr Kawczynski organised a grassroots movement of several thousand Roma, primarily in western Germany, to resist their threatened expulsion to, first Yugoslavia and then, after that state collapsed, its successor states. During one period of the broad grassroots action, Mr Kawczynski, Roma threatened with expulsion, and various sympathizers marched for one month from regional capital to regional capital in western Germany, appealing for what they formulated as "the right of stay": the right to remain in Germany and not be forcibly removed. At no point did protesters breach the boundaries of civil disobedience and engage in violent activity. The protest was one of the high points of the Romani movement to date, in that Mr Kawczynski successfully rallied Roma to fight for their rights, in the face of intense pressure by German authorities to comply with expulsion orders. In addition, the movement constitutes one of the most visible and coherent civic actions against the extremely restrictive anti-foreigner rules and practices prevailing then as now in Western Europe, and presently being adopted in Central and Eastern Europe.

In the case at issue, according to information received by the ERRC from Mr Kawczynski's Hamburg-based organisation Roma National Congress, in November 1990, Mr Kawczynski, a number of his Hamburg colleagues, and several hundred Roma from the former Yugoslavia attempted to cross the Swiss-German frontier into Switzerland in the German state of Baden-Wertemmberg in several coaches. The Roma in the coaches were in most cases citizens of the former Yugoslavia who had had requests for asylum in Germany rejected by German authorities. The group intended to go directly to the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva and request asylum there. Since most of the persons concerned had been refused asylum status in Germany, however, they were refused entry into Switzerland. Mr Kawczynski and several colleagues were, however, admitted to Switzerland and they proceeded alone to the UNHCR office, leaving the coaches and the approximately three hundred Roma at the Swiss-German frontier, blocking one lane of the border crossing. Police in the town of Lürrach charged Mr Kawczynski (and no one else from the group) with "coercion" (Nütigung) -- roughly the equivalent of "disturbing the peace" in English -- for partially obstructing the border crossing (or for being responsible for a group which partially obstructed the border crossing). After Mr Kawczynski was found guilty as charged, the case was appealed several times and was finally brought before the German Constitutional Court in 1994, where it has remained until today. On October 20, 2001, however, Mr Kawczynski reportedly received a letter from a prosecutor in the town of LF6rrach, the town in which he had originally committed the offence, instructing him that he would have to begin serving a fifty-day sentence. Mr Kawczynski is reportedly to begin serving the fifty-day jail sentence on November 19, 2001, although no final decision has been reached in connection with Mr Kawczynski's complaint to the Constitutional Court.

Honourable Prime Minister Schrüder, Mr Kawczynski has been involved in organising non-violent political activity opposing German policies hostile to individual establishment, policies of deep concern in the Romani community, as well as to proponents of open, tolerant and democratic societies. His prosecution for such activities by German authorities constitutes an impermissible infringement on his right to the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, protected by Articles 19 and 21 respectively of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Should he actually be imprisoned in relation to the 1990 incident, it is to be expected that the international community will view Mr Kawczynski as a prisoner of conscience in Europe's largest democracy. If, on the other hand, the prosecutor's office of Lürrach has issued Mr Kawczynski erroneously with an order to serve a prison sentence, he should be entitled to due compensation for the duress and harassment to which he has been subjected by German authorities. We respectfully urge you to undertake all measures possible within the powers available to your office to ensure that Mr Kawczynski's civil liberties are not infringed, and that he receives any compensation he may be due for the harms he has to date suffered. We welcome any further communication with your office on the issue.

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Prime Minister Gerhard Schrüder
Willy-Brandt Str. 1
10557 Berlin
Fax: (49 30) 4000 2357

Cc: Dr Jutta Limbach
President of the Federal Constitutional Court
Schlossbezirk 3
76131 Karlsruhe
Fax: (49 721) 9101 382

Cc: Mr Wolfgang Thierse
President of the German Parliament
Deutscher Bundestag
Platz der Republik 1
11011 Berlin
Fax: (49 30) 227 36 878


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