According to SpiegelOnline:
A regional politician in Germany has been sentenced to pay a fine of 1,500 euros or spend 50 days in prison because he allegedly called Thilo Sarrazin, the author of an incendiary book about Muslim immigrants, an “ass.” If he loses his appeal, the Left Party official has vowed to opt for the jail term.
That’s “ass” as in donkey, mind you. But just in case that didn’t cover the field, Helmut Manz, the politician in question, subsequently told the Bild newspaper, “All racists, which therefore includes Mr. Sarrazin, are assholes.” The German “Arschloch” is a trifle friendlier than its English equivalent, but not enough to take it out of the insult category.
Sarrazin, a former Bundesbank official, has written “Germany Does Itself In,” a book in which he expresses unhappiness with what he believes to be the rapid growth of the Muslim population in Germany. (The fringes of this Islamophobic anxiety are already visible in Canada: see the recent report in the National Post.)
Intrigued by the punishment of what seems to me to be normal public discourse, I went looking for the German law in question. It turns out that there’s a whole chapter of the Criminal Code given over to the sanctioning of insults. I don’t know but I’d guess that the section under which Manz was charged is:
Section 186 Malicious Gossip
Whoever asserts or disseminates a fact in relation to another, which is capable of maligning him or disparaging him in the public opinion, shall, if this fact is not demonstrably true, be punished with imprisonment for not more than one year or a fine and, if the act was committed publicly or through the dissemination of writings (Section 11 subsection (3)), with imprisonment for not more than two years or a fine.
This is distinct from the offence of criminal defamation, spelled out in the following section.
The links I’ve given are to English translations that, of course, are not authoritative. Still, they make for interesting reading and something of a corrective for anyone who thinks that our freedom of speech is seriously curtailed.