Italian Parliament Adopts 'Historic' Law Combating Holocaust Denial

In the run-up to its approval, some commentators had criticized the law as limiting freedom of expression.

A general view of the Italian Senate is seen during a debate in Rome, Italy October 13, 2015.
Remo Casilli/Reuters

Jewish leaders and the ruling Democratic Party have lauded Italy’s new law that prescribes prison sentences up to six years long for spreading Holocaust-denial propaganda.

The legislation, modifying an existing law that already punished propaganda and incitement to violence on racist, ethnic or religious grounds, also targets those who deny the existence of genocide or crimes against humanity as defined by the International Court of Justice.

The bill was approved late Wednesday by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament, in a 237-5 vote with 102 abstentions.

“From now on, those who deny the Shoah know they will no longer be able to spread their delusions without receiving their punishment,” said the president of the Rome Jewish community, Ruth Dureghello.

The president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna, called the vote “historic.”

In a statement, he said the law would be “a fundamental new tool in the fight against professional liars, while safeguarding at the same time inalienable principles such as freedom of opinion and research.”

Chiara Gribaudo, the deputy leader of the Democratic Party in parliament, added: “Parliament intends to prevent one of the hidden and creeping forms of racist discrimination ...  and incitement to hatred.”

A key question now is whether the legislation will prevent groups like the neofascist CasaPound from operating freely.

In its final version, the law punishes ideas “based entirely or partly” on negationist ideology only when “there is a real danger of their dissemination.”

In the run-up to its approval, some commentators criticized the bill as limiting freedom of expression.

In an editorial last month, Corriere della Sera columnist Pierluigi Battista wrote that it would be better to counter negationist views with public arguments than “liberticidal” laws that extend censorship.

“Censorship is an insatiable monster: It constantly extends its boundaries, covering an ever greater number of opinions that are labeled as crimes, which instead may be disgusting, but not criminal,” Battista wrote.

The Italian Jewish community numbers around 30,000 people, half of whom live in Rome, where Jews have lived for well over 2,000 years.