Germany’s Federal Court of Justice on Thursday overturned a regional court’s 2016 ruling which had acquitted seven Muslim vigilantes who patrolled the western city of Wuppertal wearing orange vests with the words ‘Sharia Police’ emblazoned on it.
Ordering a retrial, the top court observed that the Wuppertal regional court failed to gauge how the vigilantes’ actions affected the locals.
Besides wearing false uniforms, the ‘sharia police’ were distributing leaflets declaring that the area is a ‘sharia-controlled zone’ where alcohol, music and pornography are banned.
Many locals suspected that the seven vigilantes were trying to form a parallel police force and gradually usurp the role of North-Rhine Westphalia’s own police force. The issue caused national outrage.
The vigilantes, on their part, said they were only trying to persuade young Muslims living in the city to avoid gambling halls, pubs and brothels and strictly follow sharia (Islamic canonical law) to lead a clean life like a true Muslim.
Incidentally, Sven Lau, the founder of ‘sharia police’, an Islamist preacher and Salafist, was jailed for five-and-a-half years by a Dusseldorf court for backing a foreign terrorist organisation in July last year.
The seven men, including Lau, were tried by the Wuppertal court for illegally wearing uniforms that express a shared political opinion during their night patrols in September 2014.
At the end of the trial, the court ruled that the vigilantes had not broken German law by just approaching people wearing the emblazoned vests.
The panel of judges said the law, which originally deals with Nazi movements, would have been broken only if the sharia uniforms were “suggestively militant or intimidating”.
The seven were acquitted but debates continued over their night patrolling in ‘sharia police’ uniform. Public prosecutors then moved the federal court to review the case.