(photo credit: AP [file])
The Austrian judge who ruled in favor of the early release of British Holocaust denier David Irving from jail Wednesday is a supporter of Jorg Haider's rightist Austrian Freedom Party, the Austrian news agency APA reported.
Vienna's highest court ruled Wednesday that Irving, who had been imprisoned on charges of denying the Holocaust, will be released and the remaining two years of his three-year sentence will be served on probation.
In February, another Vienna court sentenced Irving to three years imprisonment under a 1992 law which applies to "whoever denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse the National Socialist genocide or other National Socialist crimes against humanity in a print publication, in broadcast or other media." The law calls for a prison term of up to 10 years.
During his one-day trial earlier this year, Irving pleaded guilty to the charge of denying the Holocaust but maintained he never questioned it in the first place.
Both the defense and the prosecution appealed the sentence. In September, Austria's Supreme Court upheld Irving's conviction.
Irving has been in custody since his November 2005 arrest on charges that followed two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989, for which he was accused of denying the Nazis' extermination of six million Jews. He has contended that most of those who died at concentration camps succumbed to diseases, such as typhus, rather than execution.
Irving was present at Wednesday's hearing and was brought into the packed courtroom in handcuffs.
During the session, senior public prosecutor Marie-Luise Nittel argued that Irving's words should "in no way be underestimated."
In comments quoted by the Austria Press Agency, Nittel added that Irving was "like an idol, whose words provide the basis for the right wing scene."
Austrian radio reported that Irving's lawyer, Herbert Schaller, argued that his client should be freed because of his age and the fact that he had an ailing wife and a young daughter.
Once the verdict was announced, Irving reportedly responded, "Your honor, thank you."
Austrian radio also reported that Irving's first interview following the verdict would be given in England. Schaller could not immediately be reached for comment.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's office in Israel, said the court's ruling was the "worst possible response to last week's Holocaust denial conference in Teheran and will only encourage those who support these mad ideas."
"It is unfortunate that a week after the highly publicized conclave of Holocaust deniers in Teheran, the Austrian court saw fit to reduce Irving's sentence to probation, since it may send the inaccurate message that Holocaust deniers can spew their lies about history with impunity," Yad Vashem spokeswoman Iris Rosenberg said.