After almost 100 days of negotiations, the Dresden Higher Regional Court sentenced left-wing extremist Lina E. and three other suspects to several years in prison. Lina E. was found guilty, among other things, of membership in a criminal organization and received a prison sentence of five years and three months. The accused men received prison sentences of between two years and five months and three years and three months.
The court saw it as proven that between 2018 and 2020 the accused brutally beat up actual or supposed supporters of the right-wing extremist scene in the eastern German states of Thuringia and Saxony. The student Lina E. is considered the head of the group, which is said to have acted as a criminal organization. According to the indictment, 13 people were injured, two of them potentially life-threatening.
Right-wing extremists attacked with hammers and batons
At the end of 2019, the group around Lina E. attacked a well-known neo-Nazi bar in the city of Eisenach. They attacked a right-wing extremist with hammers and batons. A few weeks later, the group attacked the man again in front of his car. Other neo-Nazis suffered broken bones and other injuries in the attacks.
With the verdict, the court remained under the demand of the federal prosecutor. She had asked for eight years in prison for Lina E., who had already spent more than two years behind bars during the long and complicated trial. She had demanded up to three years and nine months in prison for the co-defendants. The defense had requested that Lina E. only be convicted of attempted assault and theft.
Loud protest in the Dresden courtroom
When the verdict was read out, the accused had covered their faces with folders. Some had stickers reading “Free All Antifas”. Lina E. and her co-defendants were applauded by around 100 supporters in the courtroom.
As soon as the verdict was read, they began chanting left-wing slogans. The presiding judge, Hans Schlueter-Staats, asked for silence so that he could read his reasoning. Anyone who wants to hear why the verdict was so unusual can stay, he says. “Because you are Fascho friends,” he was shouted at. Schlueter-Staats defended the German judicial system, noting the high number of convictions against violent right-wing extremists he said the court had handed down in recent years.
A lengthy process, conflicting evidence
The charge was based in large part on testimony from a member of their group who appeared as a key witness: 30-year-old Johannes D. said he was involved in planning some of the attacks. Johannes D. was sentenced to a suspended sentence of 18 months back in February. This relatively mild verdict fueled speculation that he had testified against Lina E. to reduce his own sentence. He was accused of having involved himself in contradictions.
How much planning preceded the actions? This question was central to the process. Because the accusation that Lina E. was the leader of a criminal organization was based on the argument that the group had trained specifically for the raids.
Proceedings against Lina E. – a politically explosive case
The case has created plenty of political tension: the defense and the extreme left scene in Lina Es’ hometown of Leipzig believe that she has been made a scapegoat by both the media and the authorities. At the same time, many supporters of Lina Es accuse the judiciary of being too lenient with neo-Nazi perpetrators. Left-wing activists demonstrated in front of the courthouse in Dresden on Wednesday. You have called for rallies in Dresden and Leipzig on Saturday. The police expect violent clashes.
Hendrik Hansen, extremism expert and professor at the Federal University for Public Administration in Berlin, believes that many media underestimated the dangers of left-wing extremism in Germany. “This process is a clear success,” Hansen told DW. “In the Leipzig area we are dealing with the emergence of clandestine structures that are very well networked in the left-wing extremist scene and that use methods that they have not used before.”
“Meticulously planned attacks”
Lina E.’s group can clearly be classified as a criminal organization and can certainly be described as terrorist, according to Hansen: “It was a whole group of people who planned attacks so meticulously that they used the appropriate technology, such as disposable cell phones . They were well trained to work in a group. They had scouts to spy on victims. Tasks within the group were divided very precisely.”
Hansen said the group planned attacks aimed at seriously injuring or even killing their victims. “Terrorism is defined as the use of politically motivated violence to instill fear and terror in either the general population or a specific group of people.”
Who is Lina E?
Apart from a brief thank you to her friends and relatives on the last day of the trial last week, Lina E. only spoke once in court. In October 2022 she described her career: Born in Kassel, she wanted to work as a social worker with disadvantaged young people and wrote during her studies about how to deal with right-wing extremist radicalization among young people.
Kassel is in the state of Hesse, which has a large right-wing extremist scene. In 2006, the city was the scene of one of ten murders committed by the right-wing terrorist group National Socialist Underground (NSU). Lina E. is said to have been politicized by the uncovering of the NSU in 2011, which led to major controversy and investigations into failures by law enforcement agencies and secret services nationwide.
Participants in a left-wing demonstration in June 2021 in the Connewitz district of Leipzig called for “Free Lina”.
She has now spent the last two and a half years since her arrest in the same prison in Chemnitz where the only known surviving NSU member, Beate Zschäpe, is imprisoned.
Lina Es partner has gone into hiding
The public prosecutor still considers Lina E. to be extremely dangerous. Lead prosecutor Alexandra Geilhorn said the defendant had shown no remorse and had not distanced herself from her left-wing ideology. The prosecutor also described the “severe violence” of the attacks. They were carried out with an extraordinary degree of criminal energy and a remarkable degree of callousness.
There are no direct DNA traces of Lina Es at the scenes of the attacks on the neo-Nazis. However, the public prosecutor’s office linked her to one of the crime scenes because DNA traces of her fugitive partner Johann G. had been found there.