French far-right MEP fined for Holocaust remarks
By Honor Mahony
French far-right MEP Bruno Gollnisch has been fined by a French court for remarks made in 2004 putting the Holocaust into question.
The Lyon court on Thursday (18 January) found that Mr Gollnisch, highly-ranked in France's National Front, had "disputed a crime against humanity", handed him a three-month suspended jail sentence and fined him €5,000.
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The court also ordered him to pay €55,000 euros in damages to the plaintiffs and to pay for the judgment to be published in the newspapers that originally printed his remarks, Reuters reports.
The judgement comes just days after Mr Gollnisch formed a far-right political group - "Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS)" - in the European Parliament, so that he was not in court to hear the verdict as he was attending a plenary session in the EU assembly in Strasbourg.
Mr Gollnisch said he would appeal the verdict saying "this scandal goes beyond my personal case in a country that is otherwise the most advanced in the world in the area of freedom of expression."
"Nothing is more unbearable than the injustice of the justice. I will naturally appeal this ruling," his statement continued.
The MEP's Holocaust remarks were made at a press conference in Lyons in 2004.
He is reported as saying at the conference that "Historians have the right to discuss the number of deaths and the way that they died. Fifty years after the facts we can discuss the real number of deaths."
The "existence of the gas chambers is for historians to discuss," he was also quoted as saying at the time.
The court verdict is likely to strengthen the feeling of other mainstream MEPs in the European Parliament who want to marginalize the group.
They have already said they will try and keep the newly-formed 20-strong caucus away from positions of power in the assembly and limit its activities. There have also been discussions that the rules for forming a group should be made more difficult from 2009, when the next legislature starts.
For its part, the ITS group is already in some disarray due to internal bickering between its members.
UK member Ashley Mote criticised his Bulgarian colleague 23-year old Dimitar Stoyanov for comments made earlier in the week where he said he opposed the "Jewish establishment" and accused Roma parents in Bulgaria of selling their daughters into prostitution.
"I think the comments reflect the inexperience and lack of political nous of the young man concerned. I have twice given him the opportunity to make a statement and he has rejected the opportunity to do so," Mr Mote was reported as saying by UK daily The Independent.
ITS has 20 MEPs - just the threshold required to form a group. If any were to leave, the group would automatically officially cease to exist.