German court orders immediate ban on Nazi Web site

The German state government of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) has won one battle in its efforts to ban Web sites carrying neo-Nazi content, but has yet to win the war.

On Thursday, the administrative court in Arnsberg, Germany, ordered an ISP (Internet service provider) to immediately block access to objectionable sites, according to Jürgen Schütte, an official with the NRW state government in Düsseldorf, Germany. The ISP, whose name is being withheld, filed a lawsuit earlier in the year against the state government's ban, which was initiated in February, Schütte said.

Thursday's decision enforcing the state government ban follows an earlier decision by another regional court, which ruled against the decree on behalf of another ISP. In October, the administrative court in Minden ruled in favor of a local Internet company that had objected to following the state government's Web site ban. The state government has meanwhile appealed to the next higher court, the appellate administrative court in Münster, according to Schütte, who was unable to say when a decision is expected.

NRW, Germany's most populous region, is the only state in Germany to have issued a ban on Web sites disseminating neo-Nazi information. "The other states still haven't been able to make up their minds," Schütte said.

In February, the NRW state government ordered 76 ISPs in the region to immediately ban access to objectionable sites, according to Schütte. Of these, 17 rejected the ban, and 11 of these have gone to court to fight it, he said.

Ultimately, the decision on whether the NRW state government can ban neo-Nazi Web sites is in the hands of the appellate administrative court in Münster or even higher courts, such as the federal administrative court, according to Schütte. "The higher courts have the ultimate say, and that means law suits involving the Web site ban could go all the way to the federal constitutional court," he said.

The battle against neo-Nazi online services has heated up ever since Germany's highest civil court ruled in late 2000 that the country's laws banning certain material can also be enforced against foreign-hosted sites.

The association of German Internet businesses has criticized the NRW government ban as state censorship.

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