By Worthy News Europe Bureau Chief Stefan J. Bos reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (Worthy News)-- Hungary's President László Sólyom signed a law Wednesday, March 10, making denial, or playing down, of the Holocaust a criminal offense punishable by up to three years imprisonment.
The move came amid concerns about rising extremism and anti-Semitism here ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections next month.
Opinion polls suggest the far-right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik), whose leaders have been criticized for perceived anti-Jewish remarks, could become the third, or even second, largest political party.
Last month Hungary's parliament already approved the Holocaust-denial legislation, after more wide-ranging versions were rejected by courts on grounds they limited free speech.
Sólyom, who previously criticized the law, signed the latest version because he did not consider it to be violating Hungary's constitutional right to freedom, said his spokesman Ferenc Kumin.
The governing Socialist Party and representatives of Hungary's growing Jewish community of over 100,000 people welcomed the news Wednesday, March 10.
However the centre-right opposition party Fidesz, which is expected to become the largest party in April elections, abstained from voting for the law after Socialists rejected a motion to extend the scope of the legislation to cover crimes committed by Communists from 1948 to 1989.
More than 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, according to the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ) as well as tens of thousands of gypsies, also known as Roma.
Hungary was a close ally of Nazi-Germany during most of the war.
Sólyom signed the law while Jews buried Hungary's former chief rabbi, Tamás Raj, who died Monday, March 7, at the age of 70.
Raj played a key role in improving ties between the Christian community and Orthodox Jewish people, his supporters said.
Those relations had been tense following World War Two.