UK historian gets jail for Holocaust denial

Right-wing British historian David Irving was sentenced to three years in prison by an Austrian court on Monday for denying the Holocaust 17 years ago.
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Updated on Feb 21, 2006 04:54 AM IST
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None | ByAgence France-Presse, Vienna

Right-wing British historian David Irving was sentenced to three years in prison by an Austrian court on Monday for denying the Holocaust 17 years ago, despite his claiming to have changed his views.

Irving, 67, had pleaded guilty at the trial in Vienna on a charge dating from 1989 of denying the Holocaust of European Jewry but insisted that he no longer questioned the existence of gas chambers at the Nazi's Auschwitz concentration camp.

Irving, a controversial figure who has had brushes with the law in several countries, appeared stunned by the verdict and told reporters as he walked out of court: "I'm very shocked and I'm going to appeal."

He received encouragement from onlooker Richard Edmonds, an engineer from London who had travelled to the trial who shouted to him "stay strong, stay strong, good luck to you". Edmonds told reporters he was acting in the name of "free speech".

Austria is among 11 countries that have laws against denying the Holocaust.

Irving told the court in fluent German during the seven-hour hearing that he no longer believed that reports of gas chambers were a propaganda ploy as he had learned new information, including what he said were documents of Nazi Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann that he had found in 1991.

His statement that "there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz (was) false," he told the court.

Irving, who had faced up to 10 years in prison, has been in custody since his arrest last November following a routine check on a highway in Austria.

The warrant had been issued by a Vienna court in 1989 on charges that, at meetings in Austria, he had denied the Nazi regime used gas chambers.

Irving was also on trial for saying in Austria that the November 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom against the Jews was not the work of the Nazis but of "unknown" people who had dressed up as storm troopers, and that Adolf Hitler had in fact protected the Jews.

He was found guilty on all three counts by an eight-person jury.

His defence lawyer Elmar Kresbach said they would appeal the sentence.

He said the case had been "a little bit of a message trial" in an Austria trying to show it has come to grips with its Nazi past, but that "three years is too much of a message."

Kresbach said he expected Irving to serve no more than two years because "he is old and a first-time offender."

Prosecutor Michael Klackl said he wanted some time to consider the verdict to see "whether the public has been served."

In his closing plea, Klackl had listed statements from Irving since 1989 which the prosecutor alleged "were anti-Semitic or glorified the person of Adolf Hitler."

Klackl said Irving's turnaround on the gas chambers was "just a role played for one day. He has not changed his opinion."

Irving was prosecuted under an Austrian law targeting those who "deny the genocide by the National Socialists or other National Socialist crimes against humanity."

He told reporters on entering the court in Vienna in handcuffs that it was "ridiculous" to be on trial for comments made 17 years ago.

"I am not a Holocaust denier," he added. "My views have changed. History is a constantly growing tree. ... The more documents are available, the more you learn, and I have learned a lot since 1989."

The Holocaust was Nazi Germany's systematic slaughter of some six million Jews, mainly in the later years of World War II.

Irving has become notorious worldwide for attempting to establish, despite overwhelming evidence otherwise, that Hitler was not party to the Holocaust, that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz and that the number of Jews slain by the Nazis was greatly exaggerated.

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