Page last updated at 13:06 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

German far-right leader on trial

Udo Voigt, leader of the far-right NPD (25 May 2008)
The NPD calls the charges absurd and politically motivated

The leader of Germany's far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) has gone on trial in Berlin charged with racial incitement and defamation.

Udo Voigt and two other key members are accused of questioning the presence of non-white players in Germany's national squad ahead of the 2006 World Cup.

The NPD distributed leaflets suggesting Patrick Owomoyela, whose father is Nigerian, should not be selected.

The accused entered no plea. They could face three years in jail if convicted.

When prosecutors charged Mr Voigt, NPD spokesman Klaus Beier and Frank Schwerdt, head of its legal department, last March, the party dismissed the allegations as "absurd" and "political".

The party holds no seats in the German national parliament, but is represented in two eastern state legislatures.

'Racist campaigns'

The pamphlets printed and distributed by the NPD ahead of the World Cup showed a picture of the German football team's traditional white shirt imprinted with the Number 25 - worn at the time by Owomoyela.

Footballer Patrick Owomoyela, former German national team player (January 2006)
Prosecutors say the shirt depicted was worn by Patrick Owomoyela

On top of the shirt were the words: "White, not just a jersey colour! For a real NATIONAL team!"

Police confiscated about 70,000 copies of the pamphlets during a search of the NPD's headquarters after the authorities were alerted.

When the three men were charged with two counts of racial incitement and one of defamation, prosecutors alleged that the leaflet "called into question whether this player, as well as other non-white-skinned players, were worthy of representing Germany as national players".

The NPD insisted the use of Number 25 was pure chance and that the quality of the printing was unclear, meaning it could be another number.

Owomoyela and the German Football Association (DFB) jointly filed a lawsuit against the party in 2006.

In a statement, the DFB said it had pressed charges to fight "the racist campaigns against players for the German national team".

Owomoyela, who has a German mother and a Nigerian father, plays for Borussia Dortmund but has not been selected by the national team for three years.

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