Germans Could Face Jail Time for Publicly Supporting Russia's Ukraine War

This weekend, two German states moved to outlaw public displays of support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and those who violate the new law could face time in jail.

In Germany's Lower Saxony and Bavaria, citizens are now barred from publicly displaying the letter "Z," which has become a symbol used by the Russian army during the war. Anyone who displays the symbol at demonstrations or publicly showcases it on cars or buildings could now face a fine or up to three years in jail, according to the Moscow Times.

"It is incomprehensible to me how this symbol 'Z' could be used in our country to condone this crime," Boris Pistorius, Lower Saxony's interior minister, said in a statement, according to the news outlet. Similarly, Bavaria's Justice Minister Georg Eisenreich said that while freedom of opinion is a "great asset," it "ends where criminal law begins."

"Sympathizers who use the symbol 'Z' of Russian forces in Bavaria must know that they may be liable to prosecution for approving criminal acts," he added, according to the Moscow Times.

In addition, a spokesperson for Germany's federal government said Monday that displaying the symbol may soon become criminalized across the whole country.

"The Russian war of aggression on the Ukraine is a criminal act, and whoever publicly approves of this war of aggression can also make himself liable to prosecution," an Interior Ministry spokesperson said during a news conference, Reuters reported.

"The federal security authorities have an eye on this, and in this respect, we welcome the announcement that several federal states will also examine in individual cases whether this could be a criminal act and to take action accordingly," the spokesperson added.

The symbol "Z" – a Latin letter that is not featured in Russia's Cyrillic alphabet – was first seen emblazoned on Russian military vehicles in Ukraine. It has been suggested that the military began using the mark to help soldiers on the ground differentiate their side's vehicles from Ukrainian forces in order to avoid friendly fire.

However, the symbol has since gained international attention, with supporters of the war showcasing the emblem on clothing, cars, and houses. The Kremlin has also adopted the symbol, using it in propaganda messaging and encouraging its display at rallies.

Russia Z outlawed in Germany
Two German states have outlawed public displays of the Russian symbol "Z," which is used to support the war in Ukraine. Here, pedestrians cross a street in front of a billboard displaying the "Z" in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on March 7, 2022. AFP/Getty Images

Its widespread use has even prompted the Swiss company, Zurich Insurance Group, to remove its "Z" logo from social media to avoid being seen as supporting Russia in the war, according to Reuters.

"We are temporarily removing the use of the letter 'Z' from social channels where it appears in isolation and could be misinterpreted," the company said in a statement on Saturday.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine began over a month ago, and has so far caused widespread destruction of major cities, displaced millions of Ukrainians, and killed over 1,100 civilians, the United Nations reported. The U.S. and European Union have strongly condemned the war and issued severe sanctions against Moscow.

For the latest updates about the ongoing war, visit Newsweek's liveblog.

Newsweek contacted Germany's Interior Ministry for additional comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.