STRASBOURG, France (CN) – Settling a years-long dispute, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that denying the Holocaust happened is not protected expression under Europe’s human rights convention.
A seven-judge panel found that far-right German politician Udo Pastörs had “intentionally stated untruths in order to defame the Jews and the persecution that they had suffered during the Second World War.”
On Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2010, Pastörs, then a member of the local parliament in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, made a speech in which he claimed the commemorations were “theater” and claimed that “the so-called Holocaust is being used for political and commercial purposes.”
He was convicted in 2012 of violating the memory of the dead and of the intentional defamation of the Jewish people. He lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in 2014 after exhausting his legal options in Germany.
The Strasbourg-based court was created by the European Union Convention on Human Rights in 1953 and hears cases on political freedom and human rights.
On Thursday, the court categorically denied Pastörs’ claim that his statements were protected under Article 10 of the Convention, which protects freedom of expression.
“States that have experienced the Nazi horrors may be regarded as having a special moral responsibility to distance themselves from the mass atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis,” the ruling states. “The court therefore considers that the applicant’s impugned statements affected the dignity of the Jews to the point that they justified a criminal-law response.”
It continues, “Even though the applicant’s sentence of eight months’ imprisonment, suspended on probation, was not insignificant, the court considers that the domestic authorities adduced relevant and sufficient reasons and did not overstep their margin of appreciation. The interference [to expression] was therefore proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and was thus ‘necessary in a democratic society.’”
Pastörs also claimed that his right to a fair trial had been infringed, as two of the judges in his German cases were married. The judges sat at different levels of jurisdiction during the process. This isn’t forbidden under German or international law and subsequent rulings in the case were upheld by unrelated judged.
The judges on the Court of Human Rights wrote that Pastörs had “not given any concrete arguments why a professional judge – being married to another professional judge – should be biased.”
This wasn’t the first time Pastörs, who is a clockmaker by trade, had run afoul of Germany authorities. He was convicted of sedition in 2010 and fined 6,000 euros, or about $6,500, for calling Turkish-German men “semen cannons” and referring to Germany as a “Jew Republic.”