European Rights Court Says Turk Had Right To Deny Armenian Genocide
October 15, 2015
In a landmark freedom-of-speech case, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that a Turkish politician had the right to deny that the mass killing of Armenians a century ago amounted to genocide.
The ECHR's 17-judge Grand Chamber, whose rulings are final, announced its decision in the politically charged case at a public hearing in Strasbourg, France, on October 15.
The court ruled that Dogu Perincek should not have been convicted of racial discrimination by a Swiss court for saying in 2005 that it was an 'international lie' to describe the slaughter as genocide.
It concluded that Perincek's conviction and punishment "constituted an interference with the exercise of his right to freedom of expression."
Perincek's statements "could not be seen as a call for hatred, violence, or intolerance towards the Armenians' and 'could not be regarded as affecting the dignity of the members of the Armenian community to the point of requiring a criminal law response,' it also said.
Armenia and Turkey were acting as third parties in the case.
Armenia points to the World War I-era mass slaughter and deportation of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks as being one of the first examples of genocide in modern history, predating the Holocaust.
Turkey objects, contending that Armenians died in much smaller numbers and that the deaths resulted from civil strife rather than a planned Ottoman government effort to annihilate the Christian minority.
More than 20 countries, including Switzerland, recognize the killings as 'genocide.'
Under Swiss antiracism legislation, the denial of genocide is a crime.
A court in Lausanne in March 2007 found Perincek, leader of the Turkish Workers' Party, now the Patriotic Party, guilty of racial discrimination for his remarks and gave him a suspended sentence, as well as a fine.
'I have not denied genocide because there was no genocide,' Perincek had told the court.
The verdict was later confirmed by a Swiss appeal court and the Federal Supreme Court, and Perincek took the case to the ECHR, arguing that his freedom of speech was infringed upon.
A lower chamber of the ECHR rejected the Swiss court's conviction in December 2013, saying the Turkish politician's remarks fell within the boundaries of free speech.
The court "doubted that there could be a general consensus as to events such as those at issue, given that historical research was by definition open to discussion and a matter of debate, without necessarily giving rise to final conclusions or to the assertion of objective and absolute truths.'
The case came before the ECHR's Grand Chamber after Switzerland appealed that ruling.
It gained additional attention in January 2015, when prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who is also the wife of American actor George Clooney, represented Armenia at a hearing.
The Swiss side argued that denying that a genocide took place is tantamount to 'accusing the Armenians of falsifying history, one of the worst forms of racial discrimination.'
The lawyers of Perincek and the Turkish government said there was no 'general consensus' that the killings were genocide.
Perincek's lawyer Laurent Pech said his client denied that the Ottoman authorities of the time had a genocidal intention, but 'neither contested nor defended the massacres, nor did he incite hatred against the Armenians.'
In the proceedings, third-party comments were received from the Turkish, Armenian, and French governments, nongovernmental organizations -- such as the Switzerland-Armenia Association, the Federation of the Turkish Associations of French-speaking Switzerland, and the International Federation for Human Rights -- as well as a group of French and Belgian academics.
With reporting by AFP
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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