Belgium Gives Holocaust Denier An Incredibly Unusual Sentence

Will it have an impact?

When a man in Belgium was sentenced on September 20, 2017 — two years after being convicted of Holocaust denial — the Brussels Court of Appeal opted to give him an unorthodox punishment.

Laurent Louis, a former lawmaker with far-right views, earned a reputation for making inflammatory statements about Jews and, according to the New York Timeswas found guilty of Holocaust denial for posts online in which he questioned the number of Jews killed in gas chambers. 

Though Louis was initially given a six-month suspended jail sentence and fined over $20,000 at his 2015 trial, the updated sentence ordering him to visit one Nazi concentration camp a year for the next five years and write about his experiences represents an interesting shift. Instead of jailing or fining Louis for his incendiary remarks, Belgium's courts have passed down a sentence he will hopefully learn from.

Though the First Amendment makes a conviction like this impossible in the United States, legal scholars from around the world have taken note of this ruling. Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of history at Emory University in Atlanta, tells the Times it's "unusual," and notes it could just lead Louis to make more outlandish claims.

Per The Washington Post, it also calls to mind a February court ruling in Virginia which required that five teenagers convicted of spray painting racially-charged graffiti and swastikas visit The U.S. Holocaust Museum, read books by minority authors, and listen to an interview with a former student of the historic black school that they had vandalized.


And while it's unlikely a 37-year-old man will change his views after a few visits to concentration camps and some research, there is some hope a sentence like this has the power to spark empathy in Louis and others who could receive similar punishments in the future.

"I will submit to the court's decision, and I will repent every year in a death camp," the married father wrote in a post-ruling statement last week on Facebook. "In addition to being very informative and very strong in human terms, this will also be an opportunity to denounce current genocide."

The knowledge portion of the sentence also has a chance of playing a key role, because even a little information and exposure is enough to sway opinions. For example a 2016 study published by the journal Science found that door-to-door political canvassers can soften the attitudes of some voters who are resistant to transgender rights by prompting them to reflect on their own experiences of being treated differently.

Time will tell whether Louis' mandated visits will impact him similarly.

Cover image via Shutterstock / Ozef.

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