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Hungary parliament passes bill criminalizing Holocaust denial

[JURIST] The Hungarian Parliament [official website, in Hungarian] passed a bill on Monday that prohibits denials of the Holocaust [JURIST news archive]. The law, which passed 197-1 [Politics.hu report] with 142 members abstaining, makes denying the Holocaust a criminal offense punishable by up to 3 years in prison. The bill was proposed by Attila Mesterházy [official profile, in Hungarian], the Hungarian Socialist Party [official website, in Hungarian] candidate for prime minister, and was the final item considered before the parliament breaks for April elections. The bill now moves to Hungarian President László Sólyom [official website, in Hungarian] for approval. A measure put forward by the opposition Fidesz [party website, in Hungarian] party to similarly criminalize the denial of human rights violations committed by the country's former Communist regime was defeated 178-146 [Haaretz report]. Two previous proposals to criminalize hate speech were struck down by the Constitutional Court of Hungary [official website, in Hungarian] in 2008 on the grounds that they were unconstitutional infringements [JURIST report] on the freedom of expression, and that the targeted speech was already marginalized. Hungary is home to more than 50,000 Jews, giving it the largest Jewish population among the eastern members of the EU.

Hungary is not alone in attempting to criminalize denial of early 20th-century atrocities. In November, the German Federal Constitutional Court [official website, in German] upheld [JURIST report] legislation prohibiting public support and justification of the Nazi regime. In 2007, the European Union approved [JURIST report] a framework aimed at criminalizing denial of the Holocaust and other genocides after six years of contentious debate. In 2006, British politicians, writers and comedians urged members of the UK House of Commons [official website] to accept freedom of speech revisions in the controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill [text; BBC Q & A], which had been amended] by the British House of Lords [official website] to restrict punishable actions to "threatening words or behavior" rather than including words which may be insulting or abusive.

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