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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 13:15 GMT
European press split over Irving
British historian David Irving holds his book 'Hitler"s War" when arriving at a court in Vienna
Irving has said he will appeal against his sentence

The three-year prison sentence handed down by an Austrian court to British historian David Irving for denying the Holocaust divides opinion in Europe's press.

In Austria, a commentator on a leading daily has no doubts that the sentence was fully justified, notwithstanding that the country is a democracy.

But elsewhere, commentators worry that the sentence has undermined the fundamental democratic right of freedom of speech, and argue the principle should be upheld however abhorrent the views expressed.

Hans Rauscher in Austria's Der Standard

Holocaust deniers like David Irving want to trivialise these inconceivable crimes and make them politically acceptable. That is the decisive point. Whoever wants to render National Socialism harmless wants to revive it as a political option. It's just too much to ask of democracy to tolerate this. And it is deplorable treatment of the victims.

Editorial in the UK's The Independent

Few in this country will shed many tears for an academic who never cared to hide his despicable views... But (the sentence) is three years more than anyone should have to serve for exercising freedom of speech in a democracy... We have deep misgivings about the classification of Holocaust denial as a prosecutable offence.

Editorial in UK's The Times

As a spectacle, Irving's squirming while pleading, unsuccessfully, for his freedom would have been entertaining if the subject matter were lighter. Yet it remains significant. It is not often the influential are forced publicly to recant odious views. And yet because of the manner in which Mr Irving's new views were elicited and the three year sentence he received, there are serious reservations. Curbs on free speech are always regrettable.

Czech Republic's Mlada Fronta Dnes

He should not have been brought before the court. The European countries should shake off the Holocaust taboo and the Muslims should stop hating those who make fun of the Prophet... There only appears to be a difference between the rioting of furious Muslim activists and a sophisticated court in Austria.

Editorial in Spain's El Mundo

It goes without saying that Irving's harebrained historical theories deserve none of our respect. But perhaps for that very reason, one cannot fail to wonder if, today, there is any point in keeping in force legislation conceived in a very different historical context. Fifty years after the end of Nazism, Holocaust denial - not, of course, incitement to or glorification of genocide - must stop being a crime in Europe. Can it be right that someone should go to prison for saying Auschwitz did not exist, when those who deny the crimes of Stalin or the tortures of the Inquisition go unpunished?

European laws against anti-Semitism have become a nefarious exception which various Islamic intellectuals have recently seized upon as an example of the West's double standards. Far from giving in to demands to establish new restrictions to combat 'Islamophobia', European governments must eliminate this obsolete legislation and reaffirm the West's support for freedom of expression.

Germany's Die Tageszeitung

What David Irving said yesterday in the Vienna court represented a first-class burial of the myth of the "Auschwitz-lie": Irving apologised for his earlier views and withdrew the statements that brought him before the court... Neo-Nazis around the world have lost an icon.

Sweden's Sydsvenska Dagbladet

His criminalisation can be said to have met one objective: if Irving is humbly apologising, then neo-Nazis around the world have lost an important ideologue. There will be alarming views and the falsification of history will continue to flourish. What is really significant is that false claims - such as that the gas chambers never existed and the Holocaust never happened - can be contested and exposed in an open public debate.

French daily Le Monde

Several factors explain the huge interest that the trial has sparked across the English Channel. The boycott of the Holocaust Memorial Day by Muslim groups decreed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and the controversy over a decision by the Imperial War Museum in Manchester to devote a part of its building to the history of the extermination of Jews has prompted another debate on the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom. The publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad has also demonstrated the survival of anti-Jewish sentiment among a section of British Muslim opinion. Finally, Jewish organisations have reported an increase in racist and anti-Semitic acts in the United Kingdom in 2005.

Noah Klieger, 80-year-old Holocaust survivor quoted in UK's The Guardian

This is a big day for Israel and all Jews, as the Pope of Holocaust deniers has finally been brought to justice. The sentence is not important. What is important is to send out the message while we, the Holocaust survivors, are still alive.

Headline in UK's The Guardian

The resistible rise of the historian who rejected plain facts.

Italy's La Stampa

In upholding unsustainable ideas, Irving is not being an 'ingenuously' stubborn academic. He is a character who has intentionally put his historical intelligence at the service of neo-Nazi, racist and anti-democratic movements.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.


In quotes: Irving jailed
20 Feb 06 |  Europe
Profile: David Irving
20 Feb 06 |  UK

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