Top French court strikes down genocide bill

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 28, 2012 12:08 PM
Top French court strikes down genocide bill

PARIS (Reuters) - France's Constitutional Council ruled on Tuesday that a new law that would make it illegal to deny the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago is unconstitutional, a move quickly welcomed by Turkey.

The decision by France's highest legal authority invalidates the law, which President Nicolas Sarkozy was due to ratify by the end of February, ahead of a parliamentary recess for the April-May presidential election.

Shortly after the ruling was announced, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the cabinet would meet to consider whether to restart economic, political and military contacts with France which were frozen after the French parliament passed the law on January 23.

Ankara had threatened to cut diplomatic relations with France over the legislation, which had been challenged by lawmakers who appealed to the Council to make a ruling.

In a statement, the Council ruled that the law, which would have imposed a 45,000-euro fine, a one-year prison sentence, or both, on genocide deniers, ran against the principles of freedom of expression written into France's founding documents.

French law already considers denial of Europe's Holocaust illegal. Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was famously found guilty of Holocaust denial for saying, in 1987, that the gas chambers of Nazi Germany had been a "point of detail" in the history of World War Two.

The Council said it was possible to put legal limits on freedom of expression to protect privacy and public order.

However, any such law would have to be "necessary, adapted and proportional" to the desired effect, while having the potential for creating a legal precedent.

Turkish officials argued that France's centre-right government had supported the law to secure the votes of some 500,000 Armenians living in France.

In 2001, the French parliament adopted a law saying that France publicly recognized the Armenian genocide of 1915, provoking a backlash from Ankara.

(Reporting by Emile Picy; Writing by Nick Vinocur; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)