An Indian-origin former German lawmaker will appear before a court today to face trial on charges of acquiring and possessing child pornography. Sebastian Edathy, a former candidate for a ministerial post in chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative- social democrat coalition government, is accused of downloading child pornography photos and videos on seven occasions in November, 2013 using his official laptop of the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.
The state prosecutor’s office in Hannover, which filed a case against him at the regional court in Verden, also alleged that he was in possession of an illustrated book and a CD containing child pornography material. The court in the state of Lower Saxony said in a press statement that it has set nine days for the hearing, which will last until April 27 and invited eight witnesses and eight experts to give their evidence.
Edathy, 45, a former home affairs spokesman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), could face up to two years in jail or a fine, if found guilty. Since the child pornography charges were levelled against him in February, last year, Edathy repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
He admitted that he had downloaded naked photos and videos of under-aged children, but insisted that he did not violate the rules as those material were not classified as child pornography under the German law. In his first public appearance since February, Edathy told a news conference in Berlin in December that it was a “mistake” to order those photos and videos and he very much regretted doing so, but maintained that “it was legal”.
However, prosecutors argued that the photos and videos acquired by Edathy also contained material showing children in explicit sexual scenes and therefore they are illegal and liable for punishment. In the aftermath of the allegations against Edathy, the Bundestag last week passed a new legislation to tighten the country’s laws concerning child pornography by banning the use of photos and videos of naked children for commercial purposes, eliminating the grey areas in the classification of such material and by increasing the punishment for those involved in the production and marketing of child pornography.
Edathy, who was born in Hannover as the son of a migrant from Kerala and a German mother, unexpectedly laid down his Bundestag seat on February 7, last year citing “health grounds”. Four days later, prosecutors opened an investigation against him on suspicion of involvement in a child pornography ring and raided his houses and offices in Lower Saxony and in Berlin.
The investigations against him were launched after his name was traced in a list of around 300 German clients of a Canadian supplier of child pornography material obtained by Germany’s external intelligence service BND. A parliamentary inquiry committee has been trying for several months to establish whether Edathy stepped down after he was warned about an impending investigation against him on child pornography charges and who was the informer.
He had told the committee in December that he was warned about the investigation against him by his former SPD colleague Michael Hartmann and that information came from former president of the BND Joerg Ziercke. Both Hartmann and Ziercke have strongly denied these charges.
Edathy rose to prominence after successfully chairing a parliamentary inquiry committee, which investigated a string of murders of eight migrants and a policewoman by a neo-Nazi gang between 2000 and 2007. He became a member of the influential managing committee of the SPD parliamentary group two years after entering the Bundestag in 1998 and served as the chairman of the Germany-India parliamentary group during 2003-2007.
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