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Holocaust denier sentenced to fine – or jail

January 11th, 2016

As a Facebook commenter is sentenced to pay a high fine or go to prison for Holocaust denial, commentators wonder whether  sanctioning hate speech makes sense as a means of fighting anti-Semitism.

The Esztergom Municipal Court ordered a 38-year old Hungarian to pay an 800,000 Forint fine or spend 400 days in prison for a Facebook comment in which he denied the Holocaust.  The man made nasty comments about Jews and used the term “Holohoax in a comment to an article published on the website of TEV (Action and Protection Foundation), a Jewish watchdog organization. The court ruled that the use of this term amounts to the denial of the Holocaust, which is sanctioned under the hate speech law enacted by the Fidesz government in 2010. The TEV said that it would have been more appropriate to sentence the offender to visit Holocaust-related museums or read books on the subject (as has happened in the past in similar cases) rather than hand down fines. The court mentioned the offender’s previous convictions to justify the unusually harsh sentence.

Sanctioning Holocaust denial by law is counterproductive, Anarki comments in 444. In a democracy, even people with stupid ideas should have the right to say what they think, the liberal blogger claims. If stupid views are stifled rather than publicly refuted, other people with similar nonsensical ideas have less chance to revise their views, Anarki contends. Silencing any ideas, including those worthy of reproach, is a practice that reminds the author of national socialist and communist times. In an aside, Anarki adds that the TEV acted irresponsibly by taking the case to court, and the court also erred by handing down such a harsh sentence.

András Jámbor in Kettős Mérce finds the offender’s comments nauseating, but thinks nonetheless that the offender does not deserve to be sentenced to jail. Sentencing a Holocaust denier to prison will only make him a martyr, the left-wing commentator thinks. Jámbor also accuses the government of being guilty of relativizing the crimes of the Holocaust. As an example, Jámbor mentions the case of the statue of Bálint Hóman, the anti-Semitic interwar Minister of Culture. (The project that included memorial events around several historical figures in the city of Székesfehérvár was given a grant by the Ministry of Justice. A public debate followed, both on Hóman’s scientific merits and his political fallacies, whereupon three cabinet ministers expressed their disapproval and finally the Prime Minister told Parliament he was against erecting statues to Nazi collaborators. The Székesfehérvár Council then withdrew its approval for the project and the grant money was paid back to the treasury. See BudaPost December 12, 2015.) Instead of handing down prison sentences which are out of proportion, the government should distance itself from anti-Semitic personalities of the past, Jámbor recommends.

In a front page editorial, Népszabadság admits to controversial feelings about the verdict. Anti-Semitic slurs are “aberrant”, but sentencing the offender to jail is unlikely to reduce the presence of Nazi ideas in Hungary. The question whether free speech should be curtailed in order to sanction hate speech has been discussed for years now, but there still does not seems to be an easy answer to this dilemma, the left-wing daily concludes.

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