Two German states said on Saturday they had banned the public display of the “Z” symbol used by the Russian military during its invasion of Ukraine.
Anyone who waves the symbol at protests or paints it on cars or buildings as a sign of support for Vladimir Putin’s war faces up to three years in prison or a fine in Lower Saxony or Bavaria.
“It is incomprehensible to me that this symbol ‘Z’ can be used in our country to condone this crime,” Lower Saxony Interior Minister Boris Pistorius said.
“Z”, a letter that is in the Latin alphabet but not Cyrillic, first appeared on military vehicles driving into Ukraine, possibly to distinguish them from Ukrainian forces and avoid friendly fire.
But the sign has since become ubiquitous on cars on the streets of Moscow, clothing and social media profiles on the Russian internet. — a trend that the Russian authorities are keen to encourage.
In the German state of Lower Saxony, too, there had been instances of such displays, the state’s interior ministry said.
Bavarian Justice Minister Georg Eisenreich noted that freedom of opinion is a “great asset” but that it “stops where criminal law begins”.
“Supporters who use the ‘Z’ symbol for Russian forces in Bavaria should be aware that they may be subject to prosecution for approving criminal acts,” he said.
“We will not allow violations of international law to be tolerated,” he said.
The German federal prosecutor has opened an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Russian troops since the invasion of Ukraine.