16 May 2006
BERLIN - Four youths suspected of gang-raping a 16-year-old schoolgirl in a Berlin park last week have been released after briefly being detained by police in a move which has fuelled anger in the German capital.
The youths, aged 13 to 15, allegedly attacked their victim as she walked home from school in the Charlottenburg district which is generally seen as safe area with low crime rates.
While allegedly gang-raping the girl, the youths are reported to have filmed the sexual attack with a mobile phone camera. Media reports say the four later boasted about the rape to other school children and sent copies of the video to friends.
Police who detained the four earlier this week have so far not found any film footage of the alleged rape. There is suspicion the video pictures may have been erased and mobile phones of the suspects are being analysed by experts in a bid to retrieve any pictures.
"This brutal rape has shocked Germany," said a commentary in Berlin's B.Z. newspaper.
Adding to the potential explosiveness of the alleged rape is the fact that the four suspects are all the children of immigrant families, while the victim is German.
The normally well-informed Bild tabloid said the suspects were two German-Turks, a German Russian and a German-Angolan.
Federal police statistics released on Monday show non-German youths under the age of 21 were twice as likely to be crime suspects last year than German nationals of the same age.
Officers in charge of the case are convinced the four youths carried out the gang the rape and DNA tests are being carried on sperm traces found on the victim.
Given the brutality of the attack, there has been anger over a decision by Berlin justice officials to order the youths be set free.
The 13-year-old suspect is too young to be kept in detention under German law, but the other three could be held.
Berlin justice Senator Karin Schubert insists, however, that even youths suspected of violent crimes can only be kept locked up if there is danger they will flee justice.
A commentary in the newspaper Die Welt termed the move "shocking" and asked: "What about protecting the victim? What about overall security?"
The newspaper added: "The girl who was raped can now meet up with her suspected rapists on any street corner."
Opposition politicians and Germany's police trade union have long criticized the leftist Berlin government's insistence that young violent crime suspects and even convicted criminals be kept out of prison.
"Someone who does something like this must be locked away ... regardless of how old they are," said Frank Henkel, the secretary general of Berlin's opposition Christian Democrats
Last year the city was witness to the horrifying murder of a seven-year-old child who was beaten to death by a 17-year-old who said he carried out the crime due to "boredom".
The perpetrator of the crime - carried out in a park in the well-to-do Zehlendorf district - had been released few months earlier after nearly beating a young army recruit to death.
Justice Senator Schubert defended the city's justice officials in this case by saying that protecting victims was not a reason to keep suspects in detention before they had been convicted of a crime.
Some 50 per cent of all violent crime in Berlin is carried out by people aged under 21 years, official figures show.
But even for youths convicted of violent crime, Schubert says prison terms are only a "last resort" and that the emphasis must remain on rehabilitation and resocialization.
Subject: German news
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