In the Name of the People: Away with the Missiles!

Ulf Panzer is a district judge in Hamburg.

By Ulf Panzer | 1987-08-01 12:00:00

Mutlangen is a small town in Southern Germany, near Stuttgart It is situated in a valley surrounded by soft hills with green forests. There are ruins of a medieval castle worth seeing, but five years ago almost nobody knew of Mutlangen. Today it is a sad place, the place where the Pershing II missiles are deployed, place of nuclear death. But also a place of life, for at the gate of the Mutlangen military base, people keep a constant vigil against those missiles. And thousands of people come to Mutlangen. Old and young, from all professions and classes. They come to block the Pershing base until disarmament. They get arrested by the police, they are sentenced by judges from the district court of Schwabish-Gmund, and some go to jail; .1096 guilty verdicts and sentences since the 1983 Pershing deployment. But the people keep coming.

It took us judges more than a year to come to Mutlangen. The idea was in our hearts much longer, but it was difficult to step into what our fellow judges said was illegality. We were afraid. But we knew we should be afraid of those missiles, not of a criminal trial or some disciplinary action.

In November 1985 our initiative, "Judges and Prosecutors for Peace," a loose-knit group of about 1000 German judges and prosecutors, had its second peace conference in Kassel-Hessia. We had invited Phil Berrigan of the American Plowshares group to speak to us. He called us up for action.

So the idea took shape: a judges' blockade at Mutlangen. Some of our colleagues had participated in peaceful blockades before, but an official judges' blockade could mean something. So one of us judges wrote about 250 letters to possible participants of that blockade: We must go to Mutlangen. And twenty of us fixed the date: January 12, 1987, at the height of the German federal election campaign.

It was a bitterly cold morning -- minus twenty-two centigrade -- when a group of about thirty people, heavily muffled up, walked up the little street that leads to the Mutlangen military base. We were calm but also excited. We -- twenty judges, including two women -- accompanied by colleagues with cameras to report on the action, and some press people.

We unrolled our scrolls barring the street. One of them showed a caricature of a judge who, law-book under his arm, is angrily kicking a missile. It said, "IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE: AWAY WITH THEM!" ("In the name of the people" is the official phrase preceding a court verdict.)

We had not yet sat down when the first military truck came up the road, unable to pass between us. The two service men just stopped in front of us, and without even looking up, began to read a newspaper with a bored expression. They were used to such holdups. More cars appeared and patiently waited in line. We began to sing peace songs and walked up and down to keep warm. An hour later, the first German police car arrived. A police officer climbed out, stared at us, climbed back into his car and drove away without a word.

After an hour and a half, a whole bunch of police cars came, including two buses. About twenty policemen climbed out and stood in front of us, smiling uneasily A police car with a loudspeaker arrived and the officer told us a story. He said the district authorities of the town of Mutlangen had decreed our assembly to be dissolved We must leave the road immediately or the police would help us to do so, in which case, we would have to pay for the expense of the police operation. To remain would be considered as violent compulsion, punishable under section 204 of the German Penal Code. He said, this had been the first of three warnings. The next would be in five minutes and the time now was 10:52 am.

At exactly 11:07 am, the police began to carry us to the waiting bus.. They were friendly, calm, and gentle. We were photographed, our identity cards were taken, and we were driven to the police station. Then the police gave slips of paper to the waiting U.S. servicemen. We asked about this, and an officer explained, "It is essential for the trial. The servicemen have to confirm that they feel physically forced by your blockade of the road. In the past, soldiers have stated in court that they did not care. Then it is difficult to get a guilty verdict."

"Oh, is that so?" we said.

He wanted to know whether we were really judges. The police could not believe it at first, which is why they took so long to arrest us. But they had finally arrested twenty-two people, twenty judges, our bus-driver who had taken us from Stuttgart to Mutlangen, and who spontaneously had sat down with us in solidarity, and Wolfgang Sternstein, a member of the German Plowshares, who just a month before had secretly entered the airbase for the second time and had done a little job of private disarmament by smashing a Pershing launcher. He is charged with sabotage and awaits trial this summer.

Many radio stations reported our action. The evening TV news showed our arrest nationwide, and the next day there was an uproar in the press. Some conservative papers demanded that we be removed from office. Even liberal papers spoke of an abuse of our authority as judges. They said we had violated our obligation to refrain from matters of politics, and to remain impartial. We were biased, they said. It was true: We took the side of peace and justice against war and injustice.

A local prosecution board has brought a criminal action against us. Disciplinary actions have been suspended until the criminal charge is settled. The five criminal court judges who participated in the blockade are still in office.

The public discussion of our blockade is still in full swing. We have a lot of radio interviews, discussions in the papers, in universities, schools, and lawyers' associations.

One thing is remarkable. After 1096 guilty verdicts in the court of Schwabisch-Gmund, four days after our blockade came the first seven acquittals. The judge said in regard to the existential issue behind the protest that he could not see anything abject in the action of the defendants. He changed his mind and would acquit all those blockaders in future trials.

We have received many letters of support. One was from Inge Aicher-Scholl, the elder sister of Sophie Scholl, sentenced to death by German judges and executed because, in the White Rose movement, she resisted the terror of Hitler's fascism. Inge Aicher-Scholl told us she felt consoled to experience another generation of German judges. Our blockade was worth it, just for this one letter.

A Result in the United States

From Frankfurter Rundschau, March 22. Translated by Volker Beck

The blockade action, organized and carried out by around twenty judges in front of the Pershing II Missile Depot in Mutlangen, West Germany, found resonance in America.

A judge of appeal in Bangor, Maine, quashed a judgment on seven demonstrators against nuclear weapons. They had been sentenced for a fine of $250 each in the first court. The demonstrators had broken into an Air Force Base in Maine and had been arrested in 1984.

The judge stated during his verdict that he had reflected at length upon a newspaper in reaching his judgment. This article was given to him a week before the final trial by one of the demonstrators. It reported on the blockade of judges in the FRG. The judge said that the demonstrators had acted against the law. But they had done this because they were convinced that we have to act and to bring the attention of the public to the threat of nuclear weapons.

Judges' Action Received Little Publicity in the West

By Metta Spencer

The drama of the West German judges' actions has not been made known to many North Americans. The only Canadian papers to cover the story were the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun -- and these only because their editors were informed about it by Vancouver lawyer R. Bruce Torrie. Canadian television, says Torrie, was unable to carry the story because television needs film footage of the events, and for that, Canadian broadcasting depends on the American networks and news services, which declined to provide film. Torrie, who is active in a lawsuit to have the Canadian courts declare nuclear weapons illegal, has been sending clippings to other publications to engender some Canadian coverage.

His letters raise such questions as: Why did not one of them want to listen? How far does the U.S. media control what the media in other countries may carry?

150 Judges and Lawyers Again Blockade the Base

By Volker Beck

On May 23, a second blockade by judges and lawyers took place at the U.S. Pershing II missile depot in Mutlangen. This action culminated in the arrest of about fifty lawyers.

The previous blockade of judges and lawyers last January prompted this recent action by around 150 people, who wanted to express solidarity with those who have been blockading for a long time and who are sentenced for their actions. Speakers representing the judges and lawyers, some of them wearing black robes, demanded that the blockaders should not be sentenced for their peaceful, nonviolent actions. The German Minister for Justice, however, condemned this blockade very sharply and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl also criticized the judges and lawyers. He said that this is an attack on the confidence of the citizens in the constitutional state and in justice.

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1987

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1987, page 19. Some rights reserved.

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