German girl rape refugee
This file photo taken on June 26, 2019 shows one of eleven defendants as he is led to his seat at the start of the trial at the juvenile chamber of the district court in Freiburg, southern Germany. The court pronounced on July 23, 2020 its judgement against the defendants. Eight young men were sentenced to several years of imprisonment, two of them got suspended sentences and one of them was acquitted. The gang of eleven young men - eight Syrians, an Iraqi, an Algerian and a German - were accused of raping an 18-year old girl. Image Credit: AFP

Frankfurt Am Main: A German court Thursday handed down sentences of up to several years in jail for 10 men, mainly refugees, found guilty of gang-raping a woman outside a nightclub in 2018 in a case that fuelled far-right anger against foreigners.

The district court in Freiburg sentenced the main suspect to five and a half years, while seven others received between three and four years in jail.

Two others received suspended sentences and one man was acquitted.

The court heard how the victim, who was 18 at the time, had her drink spiked at a nightclub and was then led to some nearby bushes where she was gang-raped in an ordeal that lasted more than two hours.

Eight of the accused are refugees from Syria, while the others come from Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany.

The case, one in a series of high-profile sexual crimes by immigrants in Germany, triggered huge debate about the government’s liberal refugee policies.

Supporters of the anti-Islam, far-right AfD party took to the streets of Freiburg in anti-foreigner protests at the time, triggering large counter-demonstrations.

The city of Freiburg had already been shaken by the 2016 rape and murder of a young German woman by an asylum seeker who claimed to be from Afghanistan.

The mass sexual assault of hundreds of women by mostly immigrant men during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne in 2015 also stoked opposition against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision that year to open the country’s borders to those fleeing conflict.

Freiburg mayor Martin Horn told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the gang rape had horrified the city, but he praised the way the majority of residents had resisted casting blanket suspicions on immigrants.

“It was right and important that Freiburg, as a cosmopolitan city, took a considered stance: the perpetrators have to be punished according to the rule of law, while at the same the vast majority distanced itself from populist instrumentalisations.”