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RACISM

Austrian councillor sent to learn online manners after hate posts

A far-right councillor in Austria will have to attend a course to learn good behaviour online after posting hateful comments on social media, a court decided on Monday.

Austrian councillor sent to learn online manners after hate posts
The councillor railed against this ÖBB campaign. Photo: ÖBB

Bruno Weber, a councillor in the northern town of Amstetten, appeared before the court over racist and homophobic comments he left on a Facebook post about a recent advertising campaign by the Austrian state railway company ÖBB.

The advert was for the company's family discount card and showed two men — one of them non-white — with a baby.

Weber commented that the image was “filth” and went on to describe those depicted with racist and homophobic slurs including the German equivalent of the N-word.

Weber was prosecuted for incitement to hatred, with the court in Linz giving him the option of avoiding a criminal conviction if he agreed to attend a course on good manners online, which has been run by the Neustart NGO since 
late last year.

Neustart says the six-month course is part of efforts to combat online hate speech and aims to get participants to “understand why their behaviour is wrong, and to recognise how they can express their opinions without denigrating others”.

Proceedings against Weber will be closed for good after a two-year probation period in which his behaviour will be monitored.

Weber accepted the option of going on the course and explained that his outburst was the result of posting late at night after several beers.

The image did not fit his image of what a family is, he explained, adding that he didn't know the N-word was offensive.

According to figures from the Austrian justice ministry, 827 cases of incitement to hatred were filed in 2017, up from 516 in 2015, with the number of successful prosecutions going up from 49 to 107 over the same period. 

RACISM

Deputy mayor of Hitler’s hometown to resign over racist poem

The far-right deputy mayor of Adolf Hitler's hometown, whose poem comparing migrants to rats sparked uproar, will step down, his Freedom Party (FPOe) said on Tuesday.

Deputy mayor of Hitler's hometown to resign over racist poem
Christian Schilcher, deputy mayor of the town of Braunau am Inn. Photo: AFP

The poem by Christian Schilcher, deputy mayor of the town of Braunau am Inn in Upper Austria, used the image of foreign rats integrating with Austrian ones to illustrate the dangers of “mixing” cultures and languages.

FPOe leader and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said that Schilcher would quit his job and leave the FPOe “in order to avert any damage to the party”.

The row overshadowed the FPOe's campaign launch ahead of European parliament elections next month.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has led a coalition between the FPOe and his own centre-right People's Party (OeVP) since late 2017, praised Strache's “clear actions”.

“The resignation of the deputy mayor of Braunau was the only logical outcome of this abominable and racist poem,” Kurz said.

Both Kurz's and Strache's parties have run on anti-immigration platforms but with May's elections looming Kurz has come under pressure to condemn outbursts from FPOe members.

The opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) said the coalition should be dissolved to protect “the country's image”.

“There has to be a democratic consensus that human beings cannot be denigrated, insulted or humiliated,” SPOe leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner said on Tuesday.

Strache himself was criticised last week for a Facebook post linking to a site which has published Holocaust denial and various anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

The post was subsequently deleted.

Last week Kurz's predecessor as OeVP leader, Reinhold Mitterlehner, sharply criticised Kurz for the government's current direction, accusing it of scapegoating migrants and refugees.

In March the FPOe came under scrutiny for its ties to the nationalist Identitarian group, which received a donation from suspected New Zealand mosque attacker Brenton Tarrant.

After that episode Kurz demanded that the party break all ties with the Identitarians.