Football ultras of Bundesliga club SC Freiburg hailed a legal victory on Thursday after city prosecutors officially dropped an investigation into a fan banner calling a local far-right politician a “Nazi.”

Freiburg city council member Dubravko Mandic, a member of the far-right, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, had filed an official complaint after a banner using the term was shown during SC Freiburg’s first home game of the 2019-20 season to protest him attending the club’s home matches.

Read more: Brazilian football fans protest against Bolsonaro

In a three-page document seen by DW, the prosecutor’s office said the banner, while “disparaging,” falls under freedom of speech and is “recognizable in an objective connection with the political activities of the injured party Mandic.”

The statement pointed out that, within the AfD, Mandic is “politically attributed to the right wing” and that “numerous other polemical statements have attracted considerable attention.”

The SC Freiburg ultra group Corrillo hailed the decision to drop the months-long investigation in a statement on Thursday.

“We welcome the decision of the Freiburg public prosecutor’s office,” the group said in a statement. “For us, it points the way forward in dealing with Nazis.”

Freiburg AfD politician Dubravko Mandic (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Prautzsch)

Freiburg AfD politician Dubravko Mandic

Far-right reputation

Mandic had announced on social media before the home opener against Mainz in August 2019 that he’d be attending the match. “I hate football, but as the good populist that I am, I understand it moves the masses,” the AfD politican wrote.

Even within the populist party, Mandic is considered on the right extreme. Photos on his social media accounts show him with far-right figures such as Björn Höcke, a politician in Turingia who made headlines in Germany after a court ruled he could legally be labeled a “fascist.”

Mandic also used the “n word” towards former US President Barack Obama and has said German Chancellor Angela Merkel should be “disposed of, along with 870,000 other collaborators in TV studios, social offices and ministries. Germany will finally be clean.”

Read more: Germany bans fans until end of October following COVID-19 spike

SC Freiburg fan and ultra groups, known to be largely left-leaning, decided to take a stand against the far-right politician. Several banners protesting against Mandic were presented by different groups during August match. Some labeled the AfD party as “disgusting” and called for the club to stay diverse and reject far-right ideas. Another referenced Mandic’s social media post about not liking the sport, saying: “Those who don’t like football should leave Freiburg!”

But the banner that caused the most controversy was visible in the “Nordtribüne” (north stand) of Freiburg’s Schwarzwalderstadion where members of the Corrillo ultra group stood.

“Mandic, you Nazi, piss off,” it read.

Police investigation

After the game, Mandic made an official complaint for defamation, which resulted in a police investigation against members of the ultra group. According to German law, a person can file a criminal complaint should someone insult them in any way. Mandic’s complaint said the “Nazi” label was “today’s most vilifying term.”

According to the Corrillo ultra group, two of the fans suspected of holding the banner were taken into questioning on two separate occasions, both in connection with SC Freiburg matches. One of the fans was a minor at the time of questioning. The group says the fans were treated “like dangerous criminals,” with both being thoroughly bodily searched. Other group members said police had forced them to delete a video of the operation.

Read more: Violent protests in Israel: When far-right football fans take to the streets

SC Freiburg ultras protest against excessive police force (picture-alliance/Pressebildagentur Ulmer)

SC Freiburg fans display banners protesting against excessive police force

The police crackdown against the fans was criticized by the club. “We found the manner in which the persons in question were investigated as disproportionate,” SC Freiburg sporting director Oliver Leki told ARD.

Despite being critical of the police’s operation, Leki also criticized the club’s ultras for the “manner” in which they had protested against Mandic. “Insults have nothing to do in football,” he said.

In their statement on Thursday, Corrillo have labeled their club’s handling of the story as a “slap in the face.” According to the group, the club’s reaction “stands in stark contrast to the values of its fans and members.”

Responding to DW’s request on Friday, SC Freiburg have refused to comment on the most recent developments in the Mandic case and their fans’ accusations, but said that the club’s statutes reject discrimination and support people of migrant background.

After months of tensions between police and the football ultras, the educational fan project in the city held a podium discussion, with Freiburg police head Gabriel Winterer and representatives of the club’s fan and ultra groups taking part. The event was held at a Freiburg University hall, with some 200 people in attendance.

A choreo by Freiburg fans during a Bundesliga game in 2019 (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Seeger)

A choreo by Freiburg fans during a Bundesliga game in 2019

Politically engaged ultra scene

SC Freiburg’s fan and ultra groups are known to take a stand on social and political issues, both at the stadium and in the city. Members of the club’s ultra scene often participate in demonstrations against the far-right, with their list of matchday initiatives including issues such as countering sexism in football and fighting homophobia.

The club’s ultra scene has mobilized its members before to demonstrate at events in which Mandic spoke. One such protest took place in the southern town of Lörrach in May, where Mandic held a speech at a protest against the German government’s coronavirus restrictions.

“I’d like to open my speech by greeting SC Freiburg fans, the Corrillo ultras. They loyally come to every demonstration to voice their displeasure,” Mandic said.

After the prosecution service’s decision to discontinue the investigation, AfD’s Mandic made a photo of the banner labeling him a “Nazi” as his cover photo on Facebook. In the comments, Mandic has posted: “would anyone like to join me and a few strong patriots in checking how things are going in the Nordtribüne?” — a reference to where SC Freiburg’s left-wing ultras stand.