EGMR: Forthcoming judgment on Thursday 31 January 2019 – Williamson v. Germany (no. 64496/17)

The applicant, Richard Williamson, is a British national who was born in 1940 and lives in Kent (the United Kingdom). He is a bishop and a former member of the Society of Saint Pius X. The case concerns the applicant’s complaint about his criminal conviction for incitement to hatred.

In November 2008 a journalist working for the Swedish television channel SVT-1 interviewed Mr Williamson at the seminary of the Society of Saint Pius X in Zaitzkofen, Germany. The applicant did not reside in Germany at that time. After talking about religious matters, the journalist changed the topic and a dialogue ensued in which Mr Williamson stated that he believed there were no gas chambers during the time of the Nazi regime.

In October 2009 the Regensburg District Court issued a penal order (Strafbefehl) against Mr Williamson, finding him guilty of incitement to hatred and sentencing him to a fine of € 12,000. Following various appeals, in February 2012 the Nuremberg Court of Appeal discontinued the proceedings, finding that the penal order did not meet the necessary requirements as it had not contained a description of the relevant facts defining the offence. In October 2012 the Regensburg District Court, at the public prosecutor’s request, issued another penal order against Mr Williamson for incitement to hatred, sentencing him to a fine of € 6500. On an appeal by the applicant, the District Court convicted him of incitement to hatred and sentenced him to a fine of € 1800. Mr Williamson’s conviction was upheld on further appeal. The competent Regional Court considered that the applicant’s statement denying the existence of gas chambers during the Nazi period and the killing of Jews in those gas chambers had constituted a denial of acts of genocide committed under the rule of National Socialism. In the Regional Court’s view, Mr Williamson, when giving the interview, had understood and accepted that it might be viewed by a larger group of persons, including in Germany, via satellite television or the Internet. It had been clear to him that his statements could attract interest around the world, but particularly so in Germany on account of the country’s history, the interview taking place in Germany and the fact that the Pope at that time, Pope Benedict XVI, was German.

An appeal by Mr Williamson on points of law was dismissed as was a request to be heard and an appeal lodged against that judgment. In March 2017 the Federal Constitutional Court declined to accept a constitutional complaint by the applicant for adjudication.

Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), Mr Williamson complains that his criminal conviction for incitement to hatred had breached his right to freedom of expression. In particular, he argues that German law was not applicable to his statements as the offence had not been committed in Germany but in Sweden where that statement was broadcast – and where it was not subject to criminal liability. Moreover, he had never intended that his statement should be broadcast in Germany and had tried everything in his power to prevent that.

Press release ECHR 020 (2019) 23.01.2019

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