The Sunday Telegraph
Man jailed under archaic rules for not paying his TV licence fee becomes poster boy in Germany
A MAN has become a cause célèbre in Germany after he was jailed for six months for refusing to pay the television licence fee.
Georg Thiel, 54, has spent 113 days in an 86 sq ft cell with a lavatory in the corner. He is allowed to walk in the prison courtyard once a day. Yet he has not been convicted of any crime. He is being held under the German equivalent of a bailiff ’s warrant.
Under the archaic law, he can be held for up to six months unless he either pays the debt or provides details of his assets. The German public broadcaster WDR must pay the cost of his incarceration, which is already over €14,000 (£12,000). It is far more than the €1,827 he owes in unpaid fees, yet WDR has refused to release him, and appears hell-bent on making an example of him.
“I’m doing this for retirees, single mothers and low-income earners like me,” said Mr Thiel. “It’s worth it to me.”
Mr Thiel has no television or radio.
Unlike in the UK, there is no exemption from the fee in Germany for those who don’t use the services paid for by it.
Under German law, every household must pay the licence fee, €17.50 (£15) a month, whether it has a television or not. That has fuelled an anti-licence fee lobby every bit as vocal as the UK’s, and Mr Thiel has become a poster boy. He has attracted the support of the farRight Alternative for Germany party, which has long opposed the fee.
But he has been at pains to make it clear he does not support the party. “I’m actually on the Left,” he has said. “I have nothing to do with them. I don’t fight for politicians. I fight for poor people.”
Under German law, the licencing authority can seize the assets of those who refuse to pay. The trouble is Mr Thiel doesn’t appear to have any. He earns €14,000 a year, and lives in a shack he rents for just €288 a month.
‘I’m doing this for retirees, single mothers and low-income earners like me. It’s worth it to me’