MP backs denier’s ‘right to free speech’

Liberal Democratic home-affairs spokesman Chris Huhne has defended the right of convicted Holocaust-denier Frederick Toben to make antisemitic comments and deny the Holocaust.

German-born Toben, 64, faces extradition from the UK to Germany under an EU arrest warrant for allegedly publishing material online "of an antisemitic and/or revisionist nature".

He appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court in central London last Friday, where he was remanded in custody ahead of a bail hearing today.

Mr Huhne, who was a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism in 2006, said Toben should not be extradited because the arrest warrant conflicted with Britain's tradition of freedom of speech.

He said: "I don't think he should be extradited because I don't think the European arrest warrant is appropriate in this type of case, which involved freedom of speech. Although I completely despise Dr Toben's views on Holocaust-denial, which I find completely offensive and reprehensible, I do think that they do not incite people to violence and therefore they fall within the band of freedom of speech that we normally defend in this country.

"I entirely accept he is a Holocaust-denier and I entirely disparage his opinions, but I take the classical liberal position that, although I despise what he says, I will defend the right to say it.

"We all know why Germany and Austria have Holocaust-denial offences, but I don't think that their particular history ought to be imposed on us.

"In this country, we have traditionally thought that if you have opinions people disagree with, then you should argue them out and have an open debate - which has been supported among many in the Jewish community. I think the racial and xenophobia category for an arrest warrant is fine for offences which are inciting violence and racial hatred, but I don't think it's appropriate for a view about a historical event - even if it is completely wrong."

Toben was en route from the USA to Dubai when he was arrested at Heathrow Airport. In 1994, he was convicted in Germany after publishing pamphlets which denied the mass murder of Jews in gas chambers at Auschwitz.

On last weekend's Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Huhne discussed the case with Joshua Rozenberg, legal editor at the Daily Telegraph. According to Mr Rozenberg, there are various ways in which Toben might be able to fight extradition. He said: "There is a reasonable chance he won't be extradited. Just because they are asking, doesn't mean they are going to get. "

Journalist Melanie Phillips is also against Toben's extradition and said she was appalled at the political and legal developments that have brought these moves about. Writing in the Daily Mail on Monday, she noted: "There are two fundamental issues at stake here. First is the threat to the principle of freedom of speech. Second is the erosion of Britain's power to uphold its own historic commitment to that principle."

Meanwhile, convicted Holocaust-denier David Irving has shown his support for Toben, reportedly offering him a place at his home in Windsor, Berkshire. He also turned up at court last week to express his solidarity.

 

    Last updated: 11:45am, October 8 2008