Application Number 64496/17

European Court of Human Rights

A Bishop gave an interview to a Swedish television programme where he alleged that six million Jews were not gassed and that there were no gas chambers. Der Spiegel published an article in which the applicant’s statements about the existence of the gas chambers during the Nazi regime were quoted verbatim. He was found guilty of incitement to hatred and was sentenced to a 90 days fine of 20 EUR each.   The ECtHR found no violation of Article 10 given the historical background of Germany with Nazism.


Theme(s): Genocide Denial (Holocaust)

Date: 8 January 2019

Description of applicant(s): Bishop

Brief description of facts: In 2008, a journalist working for a Swedish television interviewed the applicant for a programme entitled “Uppdrag granskning” (“Mission: Investigate”), devoted to investigative journalism. The interview was recorded at the seminary of the Society of Saint Pius X in Zaitzkofen, Germany, where the applicant was temporarily present to consecrate a Swedish pastor as a deacon. The applicant did not reside in Germany at that time.  The journalist and the applicant had agreed in advance to focus on religious matters. After about forty-five minutes of the interview, which had been devoted exclusively to religious matters, the journalist changed the topic and the below are some of the excerpts of the dialogue:

“Journalist: Bishop Williamson, are these your words: ‘There was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies.’ Are these your words?

Applicant: (pauses) There, you are quoting from Canada, I believe, yes, of many years ago. I believe that the historical evidence, historical evidence is strongly, is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.

Journalist: But you say not one Jew was killed.

Applicant: In gas chambers. I think ..

Journalist: So there [were] no gas chambers?

Applicant: I believe there were no gas chambers, yes. I think as far as I have studied the evidence – I am not going by emotion, I am going by – as far as I have understood the evidence, I think for instance, people who are against what is very widely believed today about ‘the Holocaust’ I think that people, those people, conclude – the revisionists as they are called – I think the most serious conclude that between two and three hundred thousand Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber. You may have heard of the Leuchter report? Fred Leuchter was an expert in gas chambers.

Der Spiegel published an article in which the applicant’s statements about the existence of the gas chambers during the Nazi regime were quoted verbatim. Subsequently, a variety of major German newspapers, television and radio stations reported on the applicant’s statements. On 2 October 2012 the Regensburg District Court, at the public prosecutor’s request, issued another penal order against the applicant, finding him guilty of incitement to hatred and sentencing him to 100 day‑fines of EUR 65 each. On appeal by the applicant, the District Court held a main hearing on 16 January 2013. By  judgment of the same date, it convicted the applicant of incitement to hatred and sentenced him to ninety day-fines of EUR 20 each. All appeals were dismissed.

(Alleged) target(s) of speech: Jews

The Court’s assessment of the impugned speech: The Court agreed with the national regional court in relation to its assessment of the applicant’s downplay of genocide, holding that the ECtHR is sensitive to historical contexts and that in this framework, in addition to the leniency of the imposed sentence, the application was manifestly ill-founded.

Important paragraph(s) from the judgment:

Para 26:  The Regional Court, which viewed a recording of the interview excerpt and reproduced its transcript in the judgment verbatim, considered that the applicant explicitly denied the existence of gas chambers and the killing of Jews in those gas chambers under the Nazi regime and explicitly stated that not more than two or three hundred thousand Jews had perished in Nazi concentration camps and had thus downplayed such acts of genocide. It found that the applicant’s denial and downplaying of the genocide perpetrated against the Jews had disparaged the dignity of the Jewish victims and had been capable of severely disturbing the public peace in Germany. The Court finds no reason to disagree with that assessment and considers it noteworthy that the applicant neither distanced himself from the content of those statements nor alleged a wrongful assessment of that content by the German courts.

Para 27: The Court sees no reason to depart from that assessment and reiterates that it has always been sensitive to the historical context of the High Contracting Party concerned when reviewing whether there exists a pressing social need for interference with rights under the Convention and that, in the light of their historical role and experience, States which have experienced the Nazi horrors may be regarded as having a special moral responsibility to distance themselves from the mass atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis…Observing that the applicant’s sentence of ninety day-fines of EUR 20 each was very lenient, the Court finds that the domestic authorities, adducing relevant and sufficient reasons, accordingly did not overstep their margin of appreciation.

ECHR Article(s): Article 10

Decision: Manifestly ill-founded

Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? No