Holocaust Denier Freed, Gets Probation
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; 1:27 PM
VIENNA, Austria -- British author David Irving, imprisoned 13 months on charges of denying the Holocaust, will be released to serve the rest of his three-year sentence on probation, a court ruled Wednesday, and the government prepared to deport him. Vienna's Upper State Court granted Irving's appeal and converted two-thirds of his sentence into probation, said Anton Sumerauer, vice president and spokesman for the court.
Irving, 68, has been taken from prison to a police detention center, said Christoph Poechinger, spokesman for Austria's Justice Minister.
Poechinger told the Austria Press Agency that Irving would be released once he could show that he would promptly leave the country, such as by producing a plane ticket.
Irving was spending the night in a detention facility and was going to be escorted to the airport Thursday by police to fly home to London, Irving's wife, Bente Hogh, said after speaking to him by telephone.
"He sounded like he was in good form," she said. "He's obviously very pleased to be free."
She said he planned to hold a news conference Friday night in London.
Herbert Schaller, Irving's lawyer, said he hoped his client would be on a plane to England sometime Thursday but noted that no definite arrangements had been made.
Schaller said Irving won't be allowed back in Austria.
When the verdict was announced, Irving said, "Your Honor, thank you," according to APA.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's office in Israel, said the court's ruling was the "worst possible response to last week's Holocaust denial conference in Tehran and will only encourage those who support these mad ideas."
Iris Rosenberg, spokeswoman for Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial, echoed Zuroff's comments.
"It is unfortunate that a week after the highly publicized conclave of Holocaust deniers in Tehran, the Austrian court saw fit to reduce Irving's sentence to probation, since it may send the inaccurate message that Holocaust deniers can spew their lies about history with impunity," Rosenberg said.
Another Vienna court in February sentenced Irving to three years imprisonment under a 1992 law which applies to "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."
The law calls for a prison term of up to 10 years.
During his one-day trial earlier this year, Irving pleaded guilty to the charge of denying the Holocaust. Despite his formal plea, he told the court "I've never been a Holocaust denier, and I get very angry when I'm called a Holocaust denier."
Both the defense and the prosecution appealed the sentence. In September, Austria's Supreme Court upheld Irving's conviction.
Irving has been in custody since his November 2005 arrest on charges stemming from two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989 for which he was accused of denying the Nazis' extermination of 6 million Jews.
He has contended that most of those who died at concentration camps like Auschwitz succumbed to diseases such as typhus rather than execution.
Irving was brought into Wednesday's packed courtroom in handcuffs.
During the session, senior public prosecutor Marie-Luise Nittel argued that Irving's words should "in no way be underestimated."
In comments quoted by the APA, Nittel added that Irving was "like an idol, whose words provide the basis for the right wing scene."
Irving's lawyer argued that his client should be freed because of his age, his family situation, and the large time span between his action and his trial, Austrian radio reported. Schaller also said Irving didn't know he was making himself liable for his speeches.
Associated Press Writer D'Arcy Doran in London contributed to this report.