In the Summer of 1990, German actor Walter Sedlmayr was found killed in his bedroom. In 1993, half-brothers Manfred Lauber and Wolfgang Werlé were convicted of Sedlmayr’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. In 2007 and 2008 respectively, they were released on Parole. Now, according to the New York Times, they are suing Wikipedia for publishing their names on it’s website. The pair has already successfully pressured publications in Germany into removing their names from online articles.
According to the NYT article linked above, in 1973 the high court in Germany ruled, basically saying that a criminal has a right to privacy even after the person has been tried and convicted of whatever crime they have committed. In the case now, Lauber and Werlé have been tried, convicted and have served there time.
I support the right to privacy. I am also I firm believer in innocence before guilt. I always hear of people who have not been tried and convicted in a court of law, but who have already been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. Overzealous officials and media who already brand suspects guilty, so the masses can feel safer, knowing that they have the right person. But this is always not the case. Richard Jewell was nearly crucified and had his life ruined because he was a suspect in the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta. It’s even worse if the crime allegedly involves children. Such as the case in Massachusetts where a state worker was accused of downloading large amounts of child porn onto his work laptop. 11 months after he was charged the charges were dropped when it was discovered that his laptop was seriously infected with a virus that was downloading massive amounts of child porn. By then, the damage had already been done. His family’s reputation was ruined. He was in financial ruin because he fought the charges. He had death threats made against him. He suffered property damage and his health greatly suffered because of the stress. All because he had already been convicted in the court of public opinion.
The problem with Lauber and Werlé’s case is that they are not suing Wikipedia because they are claiming to be innocent, but because they believe – thanks to German law – that they have a reasonable expectation to privacy. They don’t want the murder to be erased, just their names. In essence, without actually saying it, they want to rewrite history.
The saying usually goes, the Winners are the one who write history. Unfortunately, in Germany, in an effort to make up for the sins of their forefathers, there has been an ongoing effort to rewrite history by stifling free speech. For example: game publishers have to remove Nazi symbols from World War II based games if they want to sell their games in German’s huge market. One of the biggest examples is that it is a crime to deny that the Holocaust ever happened. A thought crime for which Germany will punish someone for speaking their mind.
Before you go there, it is clear that the Holocaust occurred. There’s irrefutable evidence, pictures, witness accounts. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a jackass. I’ll believe a veteran of WWII who saw the concentration camps, on any given day over the likes of someone like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. However, being a jackass isn’t and should never be a crime. Thinking something should never carry a prison term.
Unfortunately, we will never know Walter Sedlmayr’s opinion on this because he is dead. What happened has happened and it’s now a matter of public record. The crime was brutal and heinous enough to warrant transparency to ensure that the public always has their eye on these two gentlemen. The German public as well as the rest of the EU should at least have this if they cannot have an actual “life” sentence.