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A Russian state TV channel has been accused of inciting racial hatred after it broadcast an allegedly fake report claiming a 13-year-old girl was raped by Arab immigrants in Berlin.
The report aired at primetime on Russia's Channel 1 channel on January 16, claims that the Russian-speaking girl was abducted and attacked in the German capital by migrants, and German police attempted to cover up the incident.
Berlin police said in a statement that there is no evidence that the kidnapping and rape described in the report took place and urged "sensitive handling of the subject on social media", after rumours of the alleged attack spread online.
The report contained footage of a protest outside a shelter for asylum seekers in the city's Marzahn neighbourhood where the alleged attack took place, which it claimed was organised by members of the local Russian community in reponse to police inaction, but which was in fact organised by the Neo-Nazi NPD party.
The rumours of the Berlin attack spread after mass sexual assaults carried out by immigrant men in Cologne on New Year's Eve, which have sparked criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel's immigration policies. Accusations of a police cover up after the Cologne attacks prompted the resignation of the city's police chief.
Speaking to Germany's Deutsche Welle, lawyer Martin Luithle said that the report contravened German laws, and said he had written to German authorities to ask them to open an investigation. Though the channel is not under German jurisdiction, Luithle said that its Berlin correspondent Ivan Blagoi had broken German hate crime laws in broadcasting the report.
Writing on Bloomberg View, commentator Leonid Bershidsky said that the case exposed the workings of Russian president Vladimir Putin's propaganda machine, which is "actively using the continent's refugee crisis and the Russian-speaking diaspora's wariness about it to destabilize governments that are hostile to him, including Chancellor Angela Merkel's in Germany." Deutsche Welle reported that approximately six million Russian speakers in Germany have access to Channel One.
The Channel was criticised in 2013, after broadcasting a fake report claiming that Ukrainian soldiers had crucified a three year old boy. In August 2015, the EU set up a special task force charged with countering Russian anti-EU propaganda.