People who display the “Z” symbol in Germany to demonstrate their support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine could be prosecuted for it, the country’s Interior Ministry said Monday, as three German states moved to ban the symbol.
The Interior Ministry’s statement that displaying the symbol could be an offence came after the states of Lower Saxony, Bavaria and Berlin announced they were banning the display of the symbol, with offenders facing up to three years in jail or a fine.
First seen on Russian military vehicles during the invasion of Ukraine, the letter has become a common sight at pro-Kremlin rallies around the world, signifying support for the Russian invasion. The symbol has become ubiquitous pro-Russian social media accounts, and has even been worn by Russian athletes at international tournaments.
An Interior Ministry spokesperson said on Monday that the symbol had been used by pro-Kremlin sympathisers in Germany since the invasion began.
The spokesperson told reporters that, “of course,” the move would not constitute a ban on the letter “Z” altogether – only in contexts where it could be taken as representing support for the invasion of Ukraine.
Announcing his state’s ban on the symbol on Saturday, Bavarian Justice Minister Georg Eisenreich said that Russian sympathisers could not be allowed to publicly endorse an illegal war.
“Sympathisers who use the symbol ‘Z’ of Russian forces in Bavaria must know that they may be liable to prosecution for approving criminal acts,” he said.
“We will not allow violations of international law to be condoned,” he said.
Lower Saxony’s interior minister, Boris Pistorius, said it was “incomprehensible” that the symbol “could be used in our country to condone this crime.”
According to Germany’s Tagesschau news service, the legal basis for the ban is paragraph 140 of the country’s Criminal Code, which makes publicly approving of certain offences a crime.
Parliamentary groups in the states of Baden-Wurttemberg, Saxony-Anhalt and North Rhine-Westphalia have also called for the symbol to be banned, with one political leader comparing it to other anti-constitutional symbols, such as the Nazi swastika, which are banned in Germany.