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Europe rights court: criminal conviction for Armenian genocide denial unjustified

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment, in French] Tuesday that prosecutions for denying that the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 was a genocide are an attack on freedom of expression. The court called[press release, PDF] the right to openly discuss questions of a sensitive and controversial nature one of the fundamental aspects of freedom of expression and "distinguished a tolerant and pluralistic democratic society from a totalitarian or dictatorial regime." The case concerned the criminal conviction of a Turkish national for publicly challenging the existence of the Armenian genocide, calling it an "international lie." The statements of denial, which were made in Switzerland, were found by Switzerland's Lausanne Police Court to constitute racial discrimination within the meaning of the Swiss Criminal Code. The ECHR found that Switzerland had failed to show the existence of a social need within that country to punish an individual for racial discrimination in this context, pointing to the conviction of the UN Human Rights Committee [official website] that the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text, PDF] did "not permit general prohibition of expressions of an erroneous opinion or an incorrect interpretation of past events."

This ruling comes as France prepares to present [RFI report] a law that would ban the denial of the Armenian genocide. The plans for this new law were announced [JURIST report] last year by French President Francois Hollande. A similar law was rejected by a French court earlier that year. The Constitutional Council of the French Republic [official website, in French] ruled [JURIST report] that a French law [materials, in French] making it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered a genocide by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 is unconstitutional. Despite one Senate committee's rejection, France's genocide denial ban was passed [JURIST report] by both the Senate and the National Assembly [official websites, in French] in mid-January. However, the law was contested [JURIST report] only a week later when opposition members of both houses of parliament gathered the necessary signatures to warrant the law's review by the Constitutional Council. Although former president Nicolas Sarkozy previously insisted that the law did not specifically target Turkey, the Turkish government repeatedly warned that and affirmation of the law would result in Turkey imposing sanctions on France [AFP report].

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