Bookseller sentenced for "justifying genocide"
A Barcelona bookshop owner who stocked thousands of anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi and racist works received a reduced sentence Wednesday, a decade after he was first accused of denying the Holocaust and inciting racial hatred.6 March 2008
MADRID - A Barcelona bookshop owner who stocked thousands of anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi and racist works received a reduced sentence Wednesday, a decade after he was first accused of denying the Holocaust and inciting racial hatred.
Pedro Varela, a Nazi apologist and owner of the infamous Librería Europa bookstore, was handed a suspended seven-month sentence for justifying genocide, but was acquitted of inciting hatred, culminating a legal battle that went as far as the Constitutional Court and led to a revision of Spain's Holocaust-denial law.
The ruling rejects most, though not all, of the reasons Barcelona's Criminal Court judges had used to sentence Varela to a total of five years in prison in 1998. Varela was arrested in December 1996 when police officers raided the Librería Europa and his home.
The raid uncovered more than 20,000 books, pamphlets and other publications that prosecutors claimed constituted racist propaganda and incitement to commit genocide. Among the works were books that paid homage to the Nazi regime, ones that denied the Holocaust had occurred and others that urged violence against Jews.
More than a year later, the third section of the Barcelona Criminal Court sentenced Varela to three years for inciting racial hatred and a further two years for denying the Holocaust under Spanish legislation that makes justifying, denying or inciting genocide a crime.
Though Varela portrayed himself throughout the trial as a humble bookseller, prosecutors noted that he had been the leader of the Spanish Circle of Friends of Europe (Cedade), a neo-Nazi group that had used his bookstore as its headquarters. Even throughout the lengthy case, Varela continued to run the Librería Europa, frequently inviting right-wing, racist and anti-Semitic speakers from around the world. David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Clan, spoke at the bookstore in November last year, while British revisionist historian David Irving gave a speech there a month later under the watchful gaze of police officers ordered to arrest him should he make any comments that could constitute a crime of opinion. At that time, Varela claimed that the "Jewish lobby uses the [...] Holocaust to make people forgive the sins of the Zionist regime." "That is not an anti-Jewish statement," he added.
Varela claims he has been persecuted for exercising his right to freedom of speech - a position partially upheld by the Constitutional Court last year. In a landmark ruling triggered by Varela's appeal, Spain's most senior judges ruled that it is unconstitutional for someone to be prosecuted for denying the Holocaust because to do so would violate their right to freedom of speech. However, justifying genocide and inciting it remain a crime and it was on those grounds that the judges yesterday handed Varela the seven-month sentence.
"It is constitutionally legitimate to punish someone for behaviour that constitutes an indirect incitement to commit genocide," the judges ruled. Though freedom of speech advocates welcomed the Constitutional Court's decision last year, Spain's Jewish community and anti-racism activists yesterday expressed anger at Varela being let off "lightly," saying the ruling "undermines democracy."
[Copyright EL PAÍS / ANGELES ESPINOSA 2008]