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This article is about the German criminal law code. See Strafgesetzbuch (Austria) and Strafgesetzbuch (Switzerland) for the Swiss and Austrian criminal law codes.

Strafgesetzbuch is the German name for Penal Code and is abbreviated to StGB.


  • History 1
  • Structure 2
  • Notable sections 3
    • § 86a: Use of symbols of unconstitutional organisations 3.1
    • § 130: Sedition 3.2
    • § 130: Incitement to hatred 3.3
    • § 131: Representation of violence 3.4
    • § 140: Rewarding and approving crimes 3.5
    • § 175: Homosexual acts between men (repealed) 3.6
    • § 202c: Preparation of data espionage or data interception 3.7
    • § 211: Murder (under aggravating circumstances) 3.8
    • § 218: Abortion 3.9
    • § 323c: Duty to Rescue 3.10
  • References 4
  • External links 5
    • Full law texts 5.1
    • Special topics 5.2


In Germany the Strafgesetzbuch goes back to the Penal Code of the German Empire passed in the year 1871 which was largely identical to the Penal Code of the North German Confederation.

This Reichsstrafgesetzbuch (Imperial Criminal Law) was changed many times in the following decades in response not only to changing moral concepts and constitutional provision granted by the Grundgesetz, but also to scientific and technical reforms. Examples of such new crimes are money laundering or computer sabotage.

The Penal Code is a codification of criminal law and the pivotal legal text, while supplementary laws contains provisions affecting criminal law, such as definitions of new types of crime and law enforcement action. The StGB constitutes the legal basis of criminal law in Germany.

In the wake of the Third Reich a number of prohibiting provisions were included in the Strafgesetzbuch:

  • Friedensverrat ("treason to peace"): Preparation of a war of aggression (§ 80) and incitement to a war of aggression (§ 80a)
  • dissemination of means of propaganda of unconstitutional organizations (§ 86)
  • use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations (§86a)
  • incitement to hatred against segments of the population (Volksverhetzung) (§130)

In 2002 German public prosecutors were empowered to prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide internationally under the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch ("Code of Crimes against international Law"). An other special Penal Code is the "Wehrstrafgesetz" to prosecute special crimes within military service such as Insubordination (§20 WStG) and Desertion (§16 WStG).


The German Penal Code is divided into two main parts:

General Part ("Allgemeiner Teil"): in which general issues are arranged, for example:

  • Area of the law's validity
  • Law-related definitions
  • Capacity to be adjudged guilty
  • Perpetration and incitement or accessoryship
  • Necessary Defence
  • General provisions for punishments (fines and imprisonment)
  • Statutes of limitations
  • Attempts

Special Part ("Besonderer Teil"): in which the different criminal offences and their definitions and punishments are listed, for example:

  • Crimes against the democratic rule of law
  • Crimes against public order
  • Crimes against the person of a sexual nature
  • Crimes against life
  • Crimes against another person's wealth (for example robbery and theft)

Notable sections

These sections differ significantly from the criminal codes in other countries, and/or are relevant for topics discussed in other articles.

§ 86a: Use of symbols of unconstitutional organisations

Outlaws the distribution or public use of symbols of unconstitutional groups, in particular, flags, insignia, uniforms, slogans and forms of greeting.[1]

This section has been the basis for the confiscation of video games like Wolfenstein 3D or Mortyr.

§ 130: Sedition

Section 3 outlaws denying the genocide committed under the rule of National Socialism (1933–1945). Section 4 prohibits glorifying or approving the reign of the Nazis.

§ 130: Incitement to hatred

Section 130 makes it a crime to:

  • incite hatred against segments of the population or call for violent or arbitrary measures against them in a manner capable of disturbing the peace
  • to insult, maliciously malign, or defame segments of the population in a manner capable of disturbing the peace
  • disseminate, publicly make accessible, produce, obtain, supply, stock, offer, announce, commend, undertake to import or export, or facilitate such use by another of written materials that assaults the human dignity of others by insulting, maliciously maligning or defaming segments of the population or a previously indicated group
  • approve of, deny or downplay an act committed under the rule of National Socialism in a manner capable of disturbing the peace

§ 131: Representation of violence

Outlaws the dissemination or public display of media "which describe cruel or otherwise inhuman acts of violence against human beings in a manner which expresses a glorification or rendering harmless of such acts of violence or which represents the cruel or inhuman aspects of the event in a manner which injures human dignity".[2]

This section was used as the legal basis for confiscating horror movies and a few video games such as Mortal Kombat, Manhunt and Condemned.

§ 140: Rewarding and approving crimes

Outlaws rewarding or approving of crimes "publicly, in a meeting or through dissemination of writings […], and in a manner that is capable of disturbing the public peace".[3] This only applies to crimes where failure to report is an offense (§ 138), among them preparation of a war of aggression (§ 80), murder, robbery, treason, and counterfeiting money.

This section formed the grounds for the lawsuit against Holger Voss.

§ 175: Homosexual acts between men (repealed)

This section, which was in force in some form or other from 1871 to 1994, criminalized sexual acts between males under circumstances that varied as the law was modified over the years. Acts between consenting adults, if not done in the context of prostitution, were excluded from prosecution in 1969. Until 1969 the section also criminalized sexual acts between humans and animals. No corresponding legislation against lesbian sex acts existed.

§ 202c: Preparation of data espionage or data interception

Highly controversial, it outlaws the preparation of an act of data espionage (§ 202a) or data interception (§ 202b) by making, obtaining, selling, distributing (or otherwise committing or making accessible to others) 1) passwords or security codes to access data, or 2) computer programs whose purpose is to commit such an act.

As the definition of a "program with the purpose of committing data espionage or data interception" is quite vague, there is a lot of debate how this new prohibition is to be handled in court, since software essential to system or network security might be seen to fall under this act as well. Too extensive an interpretation will surely collide with the freedom of exercise of occupation as well as the right to property (Articles 12 and 14 of the Basic Law).

§ 211: Murder (under aggravating circumstances)

In German: Mord. The intentional, successful killing of another person, with at least one of the aggravating circumstances mentioned in § 211 sec.2 fulfilled. Those circumstances concern base motives, criminal aims or cruel ways of committing the crime. An intentional killing that does not qualify for Mord is called Totschlag (§ 212). § 211 is the only crime within the Strafgesetzbuch that carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment (a sentence of life without parole does not exist in German law).

§ 218: Abortion

Demonstration against an earlier version of § 218 in Göttingen, 1988

Regulating abortion, in combination with §218a. Revised several times, with an early 1970s liberalization declared unconstitutional by the courts, and historically very controversial. After a multi-partisan compromise was reached during the early 1990s, it permits abortion during the first trimester, upon condition of mandatory counseling and a waiting period, and in rare exceptional cases afterwards. After this compromise was found, there has been relatively little further controversy about the section.

§ 323c: Duty to Rescue

This section requires everybody to "render assistance during accidents or a common danger or emergency" if necessary, as far as can be expected ("...under the circumstances, particularly if it is possible without substantial danger to himself and without violation of other important duties"). Refusing to assist can be punished with up to one year of imprisonment. As a consequence, should an attempt at first aid prove unsuccessful or actually harmful, it will not be prosecuted (Good Samaritan law).


  1. ^
  2. ^ StGB §131
  3. ^ StGB §140

External links

Full law texts

  • German Strafgesetzbuch (in English)
  • (German) German Strafgesetzbuch
  • (German) Strafgesetzbuch für das Deutsche Reich vom 15. Mai 1871. Historisch-synoptische Edition. 1871-2009 – all versions since inception with enforcement periods and synopses
  • (German) Austrian Strafgesetzbuch
  • (German) Swiss Strafgesetzbuch
  • (German) Liechtenstein Strafgesetzbuch

Special topics

  • (German) List of symbols in violation of § 86a
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