By ONUR BAKINER
The French Constitutional Council ruled on February 28 that the bill criminalizing the denial of genocide was unconstitutional, on the grounds that ‘the legislature did unconstitutional harm to the exercise of freedom of expression and communication.’ President Sarkozy defended the bill, and stated his intention to resubmit the bill with revised language (see a NY Times article on the issue here).
Earlier in the year Sarkozy signed the bill that would have punished the denial of genocide with prison and a fine. Although the bill does not make references to specific genocides, it is understood to target those who deny that mass killings of Armenians in 1915 should be labeled genocide. France is among more than twenty countries that recognize the mass killings as genocide. While most nations pass parliamentary resolutions to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, the French recognition of 2001 enjoys the force of law, which would have allowed the generic genocide denial law to penalize specifically those refusing to agree that the killings of 1915 constituted genocide. France already has a 1990 law (Gayssot Law) to punish Holocaust denial.
The genocide denial bill had led to increased diplomatic tensions between France and Turkey. Turkish authorities hailed the Constitutional Council’s ruling last Tuesday as the affirmation of the principle of freedom of expression, and a step toward restoring friendly relations between the two nations. Despite Turkish officials’ emphasis on the freedom of expression, however, the recognition of genocide in Turkey is a crime punishable under Article 301 (the law on ‘insulting Turkishness’) of the Penal Code.