London: One day in late 2021, Arne Semsrott set out with €20,000 ($21,200; £17,000) stuffed into his pockets. Some of it was his, some he had borrowed from friends. He admits to having been a little nervous. “I had no idea if this was going to work,” he says. His destination was the Plötzensee prison in the north-west of Berlin. His plan was to buy out as many prisoners as the cash in his pockets would allow.
Arne, a 35-year-old journalist and activist, had discovered a loophole in the German legal system. Someone sentenced to pay a fine doesn’t have to pay it themselves. In exploiting the loophole he hoped to draw attention to what he saw as a glaring injustice: the law that enables judges to send people to prison for not buying a ticket on public transport. “We freed 12 men from Plötzensee that day and nine women from the Lichtenberg prison the next day,” he says.
Since then, Arne and his organisation Freiheitsfonds (The Freedom Fund) has enabled around 850 people to walk free at a cost of more than €800,000. Arne says he believes the law is unjust. “It discriminates heavily against people who don’t have money, against people who don’t have housing, against people who are already in crisis. We believe this law has to change because it is not something that you want in a democratic and just society.”
Read more: Tim Mansel, BBC News