February 06, 2021

Ex-intel officer jailed in 1st conviction under Romania’s Holocaust denial law

Vasile Zarnescu (Photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

A former Romanian intelligence officer was sentenced to one year and one month in prison for Holocaust denial in the first conviction under a 2002 law, a court in Bucharest confirmed to AFP Thursday.

Vasile Zarnescu, 74, who worked for eleven years for Romania’s Intelligene Service (SRI), was convicted by a court in Bucharest for writing several online articles in which he described the Holocaust as a “fraud”.

In 2016, he also published a book entitled: “The Holocaust, A Diabolical Hoax.”

Contacted by AFP, Zarnescu said he would appeal the sentence.

“It’s the first conviction for denying the Holocaust and it’s a strong message from the justice system, one that shows important progress,” Alexandru Muraru, the government’s special representative for fighting anti-Semitism and xenophobia, told AFP.

“The case is interesting because we’re not talking about just anybody, but a former member of SRI,” Muraru added.

The law from 2002 criminalizes Holocaust denial “by any means,” with those found guilty risking between six months and three years in prison.

Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews died in the Holocaust in Romania and the territories under its control, according to an international commission of historians headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, himself a Romanian-born Jew.

The institute named after him in Bucharest issued a report last year raising the alarm over “extremist reflexes that betray a latent anti-Semitism” in Romanian society, partially encouraged by prominent politicians.

The report also spoke of “a worrying rise in hate speech against Jews spread online.”