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German professor speaks at the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court about the criminalization of Holocaust denial behaviors

02/12/2019

"The German state has drawn a clear barrier to protect itself from attacks by groups that propagate neo-Nazi messages that deny, trivialize or relativize the Holocaust". This statement was made by Martin Heger, PhD professor who teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, European Criminal Law and History of Law at the Humboldt University in Berlin, during the lecture "Criminal Responsibility for Holocaust Denial", on the afternoon of Monday (2), at the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF). The professor came to the STF at the invitation of Justice Gilmar Mendes.

Penal sanctions

Heger explained that German democracy does not accept absolute freedom of opinion and speech when it comes to the Holocaust, as this is an indisputable historical fact, which has resulted in the death of millions of people on ethnic and racial grounds, or when it comes to the spread of Nazi ideas. According to him, the inheritance of the "arbitrary and violent Nazi regime" led the criminal legislation, which should be ideologically neutral, to expressly prohibit the denial of the Holocaust or neo-Nazi propaganda. "In today's German society, freedom of speech is extensive, but no one can justify the Holocaust. Society not only condemns on moral grounds, but imposes criminal sanctions," he said.

It was only in the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany, that the country came to rely on a legislation to nominally blame the trivialization, relativization or denial of the Holocaust. Until then, explains the professor, the law provided for punishments for anti-Semitic offenses or statements that violated the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, but the agreement of the victim or his family was necessary. With the new law, prosecutors were empowered to prosecute persons or groups responsible for these acts.

Common ground

At the end of the lecture, Justice Gilmar Mendes highlighted the importance of the theme and the points in common with the Brazilian reality. He cited the Elwanger case (Habeas Corpus 82424), in which the conviction of a gaucho editor for racism because of anti-Semitic mentions was maintained, and the recent decision in which the Court decided to extend the scope of the racism law to protect victims of homophobic attacks. The justice also emphasized the similarity of the issue of criminal liability for Holocaust denial with the minimization or denial of damage caused by the military dictatorship in Brazil.

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