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Germany Considers Banning 'Innocence of Muslims'

Innocence of Muslims Screen Grab - H 2012

Interior ministry will also prevent controversial anti-Islamic pastor Terry Jones from visiting the country.

Germany is considering a public screening ban of Sam Bacile's anti-Islam movie Innocence of Muslims after a far-right political party announced plans to show the film in full for an audience in Berlin.

The group Pro Deutschland -- a fringe party with ties to neo-Nazi and other extremist groups -- initially put what it termed the full-length version of Innocence of Muslims on its website Monday before taking it down. Now, party chairman Manfred Rouhs says he will screen the movie for the public for free in Berlin in November. The group said the full length version of Innocence of Muslims they plan to show is 74 minutes long. The version now showing on Pro Deutschland's site is the 14 minute trailer widely available online.

Whatever version of Innocence the far right group says it will screen, Pro Deutschland's announcement led Germany's conservative government to invoke public safety laws to ban screenings of the film. German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said he would use "all available legal means" to prevent Pro Deutschland from showing the film, which Friedrich called " a series of tasteless and contempt(uous) assaults on religious sentiments." The minister called for "more respect for the religious sentiments of all peoples, whether Christians, Jews or Muslims."

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday said the film should not be shown if it would endanger public safety and that officials will check to see if a screening ban is justified.

Germany's Criminal Code outlaws hate speech if it is determined to be a threat to public safety. The statute -- paragraph 166 of the German Criminal Code -- proscribes punishment of up to three years in jail for offenders. 

The Berlin government is eager to prevent a wave of violent protests in Germany like those that have rocked the Middle East since an excerpt from Bacile's film ran on Egyptian television.

Those fears are not unfounded, as this summer has seen several clashes between far-right groups and Islamist protestors in Germany. In May, Pro NRW -- a regional party associated with Pro Deutschland -- demonstrated in front of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd Academy in Bonn with posters displaying the notorious Danish Mohammed cartoons, caricatures which sparked riots in several Islamic countries four years ago. Several hundred Salafists tried to attack the right-wingers and clashed with police. An Islamist stabbed one policeman, injuring him severely.

Last month Pro Deutschland staged a similar protest -- again using the Mohammed cartoons -- outside a mosque in Berlin. The demonstration ended peacefully but shortly thereafter, on Aug. 22, Islamist protesters attacked the German embassy in Cairo.

Last Friday, protesters in Sudan attacked Germany's embassy in the capital Khartoum. Security forces said the attack was provoked both by the Innocence of Muslims film and by a wave of anti-German sentiment sparked by the earlier Pro Deutschland demonstrations.

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Despite its high public profile, Pro Deutschland remains a fringe party. At recent state elections in Berlin, the party received just 1.2 percent of the vote.

But talk of banning Innocence of Muslims is still highly controversial in Germany. Most political parties here -- including Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats -- defended the publication of the Mohammed cartoons on the basis of freedom of speech. Prominent members of opposition parties the Social Democrats and the Greens came out Monday in opposition to a screening ban.

"Purely foreign policy concerns aren't sufficient to restrict basic rights (of freedom of speech)," the Social Democrat Dieter Wiefelsputz told Berlin daily Tageszeitung.

"From what I've seen, the film is a tasteless piece of stupidity, but with no illegal content," added Volker Beck of the Greens.

In a separate development, the German Interior Ministry has banned controversial pastor Terry Jones from traveling to the country. Jones, who public burned a Quran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, has been linked to the Innocence of Muslims film, claiming he has been in contact with the director Bacile. Far right group Pro Deutschland had invited Jones to speak to party members in Berlin. The Interior Ministry denied Jones entry into the country "in the interest of maintaining public order," a ministry spokesman said.