One day in late 2021, Arne Semsrott set out with €20,000 (About $21,200; or £17,000) stuffed in his pockets. Some of it was his, some he had borrowed from friends. “I had no idea if this was going to work,” Semsrott said. His destination was the Plotzensee prison in the north-west of Berlin, Germany; the plan was to buy out as many prisoners as the cash in his pockets would allow. Semsrott, a journalist and activist, has 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 enables judges to send people to prison for not buying a ticket on public transport. He was able to free 10 people that day and 9 the next. Since then, he and his organization Freiheitsfonds (The Freedom Fund) has enabled around 850 people to walk free at a cost of more than €800,000. Semsrott says the law is unjust. “We believe this law has to change because it is not something that you want in a democratic and just society.”

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