German court tosses conviction of Holocaust-denying bishop

BERLIN (JTA) — A German court has set aside a guilty verdict against a Holocaust-denying bishop on a technicality, but the defendant will face justice again, prosecutors say.

The Higher Regional Court of Nuremberg on Wednesday threw out the conviction of British Bishop Richard Williamson, 71, because the lower court had failed to say when and how the offending remarks were broadcast. A new indictment is expected to be ready in five weeks.

Meanwhile, Jewish groups are protesting an unrelated German court decision that appears to downplay the seriousness of Holocaust denial as a crime.

That ruling, which the Federal Constitutional Court handed down in November, overturned hate charges against an unnamed defendant in his 80s who shared printed material that called the Holocaust "a purposeful lie." The court ruled that the defendant was protected under "freedom of opinion" laws, since he had shared his views privately with the proprietor of a bar he frequented.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, called the decision “a slap in the face” for Holocaust survivors and their families, providing "hints on how to deny the Holocaust in Germany and escape punishment.” And WJC Vice President Charlotte Knobloch, of Munich, said German legislators were “disposing of the ban" against Holocaust denial "through the backdoor."

Lauder and Knobloch called on the court to rethink its decision.

The charges against Williamson stem from an interview he gave in 2008 to the Swedish SVT broadcaster in which he called the murder of Jews in gas chambers during the Holocaust "lies, lies, lies." Williamson, a British resident and member of the radical Catholic Pius Brotherhood sect, also allegedly denied that any Jews were murdered in gas chambers during the Holocaust and insisted that not more than 300,000 European Jews were killed in total. He gave the interview while in Regensburg, Germany. It was broadcast on Swedish TV and also was available on the Internet.

In 2010, the Regensburg court found him guilty of incitement to hate and fined him about $14,000, a sum that was reduced to about $9,000 on appeal last July. But the court failed to meet the formal prerequisites for prosecution, the higher court said Wednesday.

Williamson was one of four Pius Brotherhood bishops rehabilitated by Pope Benedict XVI in January 2009 in hopes of healing a rift between conservative and progressive Catholics. The pope said later that he would not have rehabilitated Williamson if he had been aware of his far-right views.
 

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