In a ruling that may have ripple effects across Europe, the Spanish Supreme Court has ruled that neo-Nazi literature and speech, including that which openly denies the Holocaust, is not a punishable crime.
In his June 3 ruling, presiding judge Dr. Adolfo Prego said that while such speech is truly offensive, it is only a crime if advocates violence.
“Advocating an ideology is not punishable no matter which ideology is involved,” Judge Prego chided prosecutors in his ruling.
The verdict overules a 2009 lower court conviction of four Spanish neo-Nazis, Ramón Bau, Óscar Panadero, Carlos García and Juan Antonio Llopart, who were found guilty of disseminating hate literature.
Panadero owned and operated the now-defunct Kalki bookstore, which openly sold neo-Nazi paraphanelia and literature, including books that denied the Holocaust. Garcia was an employee at the store, while Bau and Llopart ran organizations that promoted National Socialist ideology.
Judge Prego noted that he himself was offended by the neo-Nazi literature, but could not let the conviction stand as this would open the door to random prosecution of any opinion expressed.
As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, the four men were aquitted of their prison terms, which ranged from 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 years.
The Jewish Community Federation of Spain (FCJE) roundly condemned the verdict, reports the World Jewish Congress. “We Jews are very worried that the Spanish judiciary, which in certain situations shows a lot of sensitivity, does not consider the sale of books in which the Holocaust is denied and racism propagated an offense banned by our laws,” the group said in a press statement.
The Israeli Embassy in Madrid said in a statement, “Israel believes that this decision gives support to racist violence and shows a lack of historic knowledge.” It added that the ruling was reason for “sadness and concern.”
Holocaust denial is explicitly or implicitly illegal in 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Switzerland.
The European Union’s Framework decision on Racism and Xenophobia, released in 2007, states that denying or grossly trivialising “crimes of genocide” should be made “punishable in all EU Member States.” While other EU member states have already adopted either parts or the entire framework into their laws, Spain has not complied.