A disgraced British bishop, Richard Williamson, has failed in his attempt to persuade the European Court of Human Rights that Holocaust denial should be protected by the right to freedom of expression. He brought the case after being convicted in Germany over comments he made on Swedish television.
The court, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights and is not related to the European Union or affected by Brexit, ruled that Mr Williamson “had sought to use his right to freedom of expression with the aim of promoting ideas contrary to the text and the spirit of the [European Convention on Human Rights].”
Mr Williamson had been convicted over a Swedish television interview in which he said that there were no gas chambers under the Nazi regime. He was fined €6,500, which was reduced to €1,800 on appeal. Though Mr Williamson gave the interview on Swedish television and was not in Germany at the time, the court convicted him on the basis that he knew that viewers in Germany may watch the programme.
The court rejected Mr Williamson’s case as “manifestly ill-founded” and reaffirmed its previous decisions that limiting the right to freedom of expression was “necessary in a democratic society” in order to protect other freedoms.
Holocaust denial is not outlawed in the UK, but in a landmark decision last year following a private prosecution by Campaign Against Antisemitism that was then continued by the Crown Prosecution Service, it was ruled that Holocaust denial could be considered “grossly offensive” under section 127 of the Communications Act. The case related to Alison Chabloz, who was convicted over her music videos mocking Holocaust survivors and claiming that the Holocaust was a hoax perpetrated by a Jewish conspiracy to defraud non-Jews.
Generally, antisemitic Holocaust deniers attempt to hide behind their right to freedom of expression when pursued by Campaign Against Antisemitism, but this ruling reaffirms the fact that human rights law recognises the need to limit freedom of expression in order to protect other freedoms.