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A former German Supreme Court justice has come under fire for saying Holocaust denial should not be banned.

“If I were a lawmaker, I would not make Holocaust denial a punishable offense,” Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem said Wednesday at a program at the Berlin Social Science Research Center.

According to a report in the Berlin Tagesspiegel newspaper, the retired judge also criticized the state for what he considered an exaggeratedly tough confrontation with right-wing extremism. German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries proposed a Europe-wide ban on Holocaust denial during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tenure as EU president in 2007. Stephan Kramer, the secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called Hoffmann-Riem’s remarks “irresponsible, coming from such a distinguished expert on jurisprudence.” Kramer told Tagesspiegel that he thought Hoffmann-Riem had given ammunition — and, unwittingly, also a spokesperson — to Holocaust deniers, and “not helped the cause of freedom of expression at all.” In the Internet age, debate about the freedom of expression has increased in Germany, given the fact that Holocaust denial and the use of Nazi texts and symbols are banned in the country but not elsewhere — notably in the United States. Kramer, who has challenged the Internet provider YouTube to filter anti-Semitic material, told Tagesspiegel he would “hate to see how bad it would look in Germany if Holocaust denial were not illegal.”

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