germany protest dresden pegida.jpg
Photograph: EPA/HENDRIK SCHMIDT

The founder of Germany's anti-Islam movement Pegida went on trial Tuesday for inciting hatred against foreigners after he referred to refugees as "cattle," "garbage" and a "dirty bunch" on Facebook last year.

Lutz Bachmann - the founder of Pegida, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West - appeared before a court in Dresden alongside his wife after being charged in October.

Prosecutors consider his posts to be maliciously derisive, inciting hatred against foreigners, disruptive of the public order and an attack on the dignity of refugees.

Dresden is the birthplace of Pegida, which is bitterly opposed to Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door refugee policy and holds weekly rallies in opposition to what its members perceive as the Islamization of German society by Muslim immigrants.

Bachmann regularly uses social media to convey Pegida's main messages: that refugees are "criminal invaders" and that the "lying press" is colluding with the government to promote a romanticized version of multiculturalism.

Bachmann, who faces up to five years in prison if found guilty, has dismissed the charges against him as a politically motivated attempt to "discredit my person and Pegida," he said on Facebook when the trial was announced.

The Pegida leader was on probation when he made the comments. He has a criminal record that includes aggravated theft, dealing cocaine, drink driving and failure to pay child support.

Protesters - both in favour of Pegida's cause and against - gathered outside the Dresden court on Tuesday. The court's 100 seats were all taken as the trial opened and several dozen attendees were forced to remain outside.

The group almost disappeared from Germany's political scene last year amid a series of high-profile resignations by its leaders, including Bachmann. Other scandals included the surfacing of 'selfies' in which Bachmann is seen wearing a Hitler moustache and hairstyle.

The group was given a new lease of life in the wake of the November terrorist attacks in Paris and as migration into Europe reached new highs, but has failed to regain the momentum it had early last year.

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