Founder of German anti-islamic group on trial over hate speech

The founder of Germany's xenophobic and anti-Islamic Pegida movement went on trial Tuesday on hate speech charges for allegedly branding refugees "cattle" and "scum" on social media.

Lutz Bachmann, founder of the far-right "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident" movement, was charged in October with inciting racial hatred through a series of widely-shared Facebook posts.

The trial was held under tight security in Dresden in the former communist east, the birthplace of Pegida, which bitterly opposes Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal migration policy that brought more than one million asylum seekers to Germany last year.

The court said the 43-year-old's comments, which date back to September 2014, constituted an "attack on the dignity" of refugees. If found guilty, Bachmann could face between three months and five years in jail.

Bachmann, who has branded the process a "political show trial", appeared smiling at the court, wearing a pair of glasses that mimicked the black bars printed over people's eyes in censored photos.

Outside the court, several dozen supporters cheered Bachmann and waved signs that demanded putting "Merkel on trial", as chanting counter demonstrators yelled "Jail for Bachmann".

While he did not speak in court, his defence lawyer Katja Reichel said Bachmann had not written the offending words, and that rather his Facebook account may have been "hacked".

However, the court also watched video footage of a Pegida rally in January 2015 where Bachmann appeared to be defending the Facebook comments, saying he had merely "used words that everyone has used at least once".

Pegida rallies at that time peaked at around 25,000 people, but interest then began to wane following wide coverage of Bachmann's overtly-racist comments and the surfacing of "selfies" in which he sported a Hitler-style moustache and hairstyle.

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