David Irving to be released

It’s about time:

An Austrian appeals court has ruled that UK historian David Irving – jailed for denying the Holocaust – should be released on probation.
Irving is now being held in police detention and will be deported to the UK on Thursday, officials said.

Irving was convicted in February in a case that sparked international debate about the limits of freedom of speech.

In 1989 he spoke in Austria denying the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz, though he later said he was “mistaken”.

The appeals court in Vienna had heard calls for both a reduction and increase in his sentence.

Irving on Wednesday welcomed his release and said he was “fit and well”.

The 68-year-old said he would urge an academic boycott of historians from Germany and Austria until the nations stopped jailing historians.

“I was put in prison for three years for expressing an opinion 17 years ago,” he said.

Intense debate

The BBC’s Kerry Skyring in Vienna said the presiding judge converted the remaining two years of Irving’s jail term to a provisional sentence, upholding his appeal.

I’ve made it clear how much I loathe Holocaust deniers like David Irving (not to mention the Holocaust deniers now infesting the comments of my blog), but I’ve also made it clear that I consider laws criminalizing Holocaust denial, although understandable in immediate postwar Germany and Austria, to be misguided and no longer necessary now. All they do now is to squelch free speech and provide an excuse for hateful anti-Semites to try to claim the mantle of free speech martyrs.

Sadly, too many people just don’t get it:

Irving’s release on probation has dismayed Jewish groups.

Lord Janner, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and president of the Commonwealth Jewish Council, said: “I am sorry that he did not serve out his full term, and I hope he will remain in Austria and not return to the United Kingdom, where he will not be welcome.”

As odious as he is, Irving has the right to advocate Holocaust denial. He shouldn’t have been locked up for it. Even so, I do not forget that he intentionally went to Austria knowing that there was a warrant for his arrest. Either he was arrogant enough to think that he could get away with it without being arrested, or he was trying to be arrested intentionally to make a point. If the former, his hubris was truly beyond belief. If the latter, his whining over his sentence shows that he got more than he bargained for.

In any case, what worries me is that he’ll soon be making his way to the U.S. to refresh his coffers by giving speeches to far right wing groups about his “martyrdom.” 2007 will likely start with Irving showing up to “tell his tale” to sympathetic audiences (although some may not look to kindly on the fact that Irving has stated that he no longer doubts that there were homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz).

What a depressing thought.