Germany: British bishop loses human rights appeal against Holocaust denial conviction

A United Kingdom bishop has lost his human rights battle against Germany, following his conviction for denying the Holocaust during an interview on Swedish television.

In its decision in the case of Williamson v. Germany (application no. 64496/17) the European Court of Human Rights has unanimously declared the application inadmissible.

The decision is final.

The complaint was brought by Richard Williamson, a British national who was born in 1940 and lives in Kent (the United Kingdom). He is a bishop and a former member of the Society of Saint Pius X.

The case concerned the Williamson’s complaint about his criminal conviction of incitement to hatred.

In November 2008 a journalist working for the Swedish television channel SVT-1 interviewed Williamson at the seminary of the Society of Saint Pius X in Zaitzkofen, Germany.

The applicant did not reside in Germany at that time. After having talked about religious matters, the journalist changed the topic and a dialogue ensued in which Williamson stated that he believed there were no gas chambers during the Nazi regime.

In January 2009, SVT-1 broadcasted the interview in a Swedish television programme.

In October 2009, the Regensburg District Court issued a penal order (Strafbefehl) against
Williamson, finding him guilty of incitement to hatred and sentencing him to a fine of 12,000 euros (EUR).

Following different appeals, in February 2012, the Nuremberg Court of Appeal discontinued the proceedings finding that the penal order did not meet the necessary requirements as it had not contained a description of the relevant facts defining the offence.

In October 2012, the Regensburg District Court, at the public prosecutor’s request, issued another penal order against Williamson for incitement to hatred, sentencing him to a fine of 6,500 EUR.

On an appeal by the applicant, the District Court convicted him of incitement to hatred and sentenced him to a fine of 1,800 EUR. Williamson’s conviction was upheld on further appeal.

The competent Regional Court considered that the applicant’s statement denying the existence of gas chambers during the Nazi regime and the killing of Jews in those gas chambers had constituted a denial of acts of genocide committed under the rule of National Socialism.

In its judgement, the European court observed that Williamson had agreed to provide the interview, in which he denied the Holocaust, in Germany despite residing elsewhere at the time while knowing that the statements he made were subject to criminal liability there.

He did not insist during the interview that it not be broadcast in Germany and did not clarify with the interviewer or the television channel how the interview would be published.

The court thus found that the Regional court’s assessment of the facts was acceptable with respect to its finding that the offence had been committed in Germany, in particular because the key feature of the offence (the interview) had been carried out there.



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