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Free speech also applies to the unpopular

Imagine someone being punished for a public opinion expressed more than 16 years ago. Such a punishment would be unheard of in America, since Americans are protected by freedoms of speech outlined in the Bill of Rights. Yet British historian David Irving was sentenced to three years in prison for such a crime in Vienna, as he basically denied that the Holocaust ever happened in two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989.

In most countries in the European Union, denial of the Holocaust is considered a serious crime, as Austria’s law punishes “whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media.” It is under this 1992 law that Irving was found guilty, according to an Associated Press story.

Political correctness of Irving’s denial of the Holocaust aside, the man is being jailed for making a speech many years ago.

European law is strict on denying the Holocaust, but does it take into account that some individuals may speak out with a lack of knowledge? Irving admits that he was flawed in his research and mistaken in his thinking, acknowledging that the Nazis did actually use gas chambers in the World War II death camps.

“History is a constantly growing tree,” Irving said to the BBC. “The more you know, the more documents become available, the more you learn, and I have learned a lot since 1989.”

Under the shelter of free speech, Irving is to be protected in saying these things. Yet if there is a law in the books against denying the Holocaust, it is obviously a direct conflict of the rights of Europeans. According to Section 1, Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, all Europeans have the right to “freedom of expression,” which includes “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Apparently, these rights only apply to topics other than the Holocaust.

Yet there is a consensus that the Holocaust did indeed happen, and there are not many out there who would refute that. The issue at stake, however, is not the extermination of millions of Jews – it is free speech and how far governments will go to attempt to stifle this free speech.