German extradited from Canada on Holocaust denial charges returning to court
The trial of a far-right German white supremacist accused of repeatedly denying the holocaust resumes on Thursday, when 66-year-old Ernst Zundel will face charges of incitment, libel and disparaging the dead.
Zundel's trial at the Mannheim state court was halted in November, since when Iran has sought to cast doubt on the Nazi genocide and a debate has opened over the West's commitment to free speech.
German authorities accuse Zundel of decades of anti-Semitic activities, including repeated denials of the Holocaust - a crime in his native Germany and some other European countries - in documents and on the Internet.
Zundel, who once lived in Tennessee and was deported from Canada last year, faces a maximum of five years in jail if convicted.
The trial was halted when the judge dismissed two members of the defense team, saying he doubted they would mount a "regular" defense after one described Jews as an "enemy people." Zundel has since expanded his team to include six lawyers - the maximum permitted.
The International Auschwitz Committee has said survivors of the death camp see the trial as an important part of the campaign against Holocaust deniers.
Two prominent deniers were recently detained in Europe - British historian David Irving, who is in Austrian custody, and Germar Rudolf, who was deported back to his native Germany from the United States.
Zundel and his supporters argue that he is a peaceful campaigner being denied his right to free speech, and view his trial as a chance to attack alleged Western double standards and promote their views.
Those hopes have been boosted by the row over Iran's nuclear program and Muslim protests against the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in European newspapers.
Far-right activists have defended the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's description of the Holocaust as a "myth" and welcomed his call for a conference examining whether it occurred. They have also seized on how newspaper editors have invoked the right to free speech to defend the caricatures.
An Iranian newspaper on Tuesday announced a competition for cartoons on the Holocaust to test Western commitment to freedom of expression.
"We now have a media festival of the kind we seldom enjoy," Zundel's wife, Ingrid Rimland, wrote in a January entry on Zundel's Web site, where articles supporting Ahmadinejad have been posted.
A prominent white supremacist and Holocaust doubter since the late 1970s, Zundel ran Samisdat Publishers, a Canadian publisher and distributor of far-right materials. A book called "Did Six Million Really Die?" is offered for sale on the Zundelsite Web site.
In his indictment for the Mannheim case, prosecutors cite Zundel texts dating from 1999 to 2003 which they say show his attempts "in a pseudoscientific way, to relieve National Socialism of the stain of the murder of the Jews."
Zundel "denied the fate of destruction for the Jews planned by National Socialist powerholders and justified this by saying that the mass destruction in Auschwitz and Treblinka, among others, were an invention of the Jews and served the repression and blackmail of the German people," the indictment says.
Born in Germany in 1939 - the year Germany invaded Poland to start World War II - Zundel emigrated to Canada in 1958 and lived in Toronto and Montreal until 2001. Canadian officials rejected his attempts to obtain citizenship in 1966 and 1994.
He then moved to Sevier County, Tennessee, where he married Rimland. He was deported to Canada in 2003 for alleged immigration violations and then to Germany in 2005 as a danger to national and international security.
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