10 July 2014

Thomas Gerlach: flat-out refusal to testify

Today the court first heard several witnesses regarding the claim by Mundlos’ father that without the radicalizing influence of Ralph Wohlleben and André Kapke, his son would never have become a member of a “murderous gang”. Furthermore, a staff member of the federal criminal police testified on comparisons between surveillance camera footage from several bank robberies and the items and clothing found among Böhnhardt’s and Mundlos’ belongings – he had found quite a number of matches.

The federal prosecution stated that it was “not opposed” to the motion by victims’ counsel for the hearing of evidence regarding the ideology of accused Eminger.

At this point the court was ready to continue the questioning of witness Thomas Gerlach. However, Gerlach stated in response to the very first question asked that he was not ready to answer questions concerning the “Hammerskin” organization. Wohlleben defence attorney Klemke immediately supported Gerlach: to his knowledge there had been a criminal investigation into the Hammerskin-Chapter Saxonia in 2003, charging its members with membership in a criminal organization. He did not know how that investigation had ended. Klemke implied that Gerlach might have a right to refuse all questions regarding the Hammerskins if there was an ongoing investigation against him based on his membership in or activities for the Hammerskins. The witness replied that, while he had been in prison at that time, he knew that his house had been searched as well; he did not know the result of the investigation.

The presiding judge did not ask any further questions at that point and invited questions by other parties.

Gerlach continued to refuse to answer any question concerning the Hammerskins and all relevant persons associated with them. Victims’ counsel moved that sanctions be imposed to force him to answer. The presiding judge stated that he would first check whether there was still an ongoing investigation against the witness – shockingly, the federal prosecution had not checked before today, despite Gerlach’s announcement at his earlier appearance in court.

Gerlach’s questioning will be continued on 24 July. It is to be expected that by then he will have further refined his strategy concerning his refusal to testify.

If Gerlach’s strategy of openly refusing to testify is successful, this will send a clear symbol to all other Nazi witnesses that the court is willing to forego an investigation of the political and organizational structures surrounding the NSU. The breadth of the right to silence claimed here would clearly be a special rule for militant Nazis.