French Government must draft new bill on genocide denial
Today the Constitutional Council of France ruled that the country's law punishing genocide denial is unconstitutional. Paris considers the murder of Armenians by Turks during the First World War to have been genocide. Turkey, which previously said it would suspend diplomatic relations with France over the law, responded to the verdict by saying it would now consider renewing normal contact. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced he intends to submit a new version of the law.
According to the Constitutional Council, the law which Sarkozy was to have signed by the end of this month clashes with the principles of free speech enshrined in the French Constitution. The law, adopted on 23 January, would have punished anyone who denied any instances of genocide with up to one year in prison and a fine of up to EUR 45 000.
France considers the Holocaust of Jewish people during the Second World War and the murder of the Armenians in 1915 to have been genocides. However, so far only Holocaust deniers have been sentenced in the country.
As many as 130 members of both chambers of the French Parliament from all political parties sent their objections to the law to the Constitutional Council, which is the French equivalent of a constitutional court. Those objecting say historians are still debating the events in the former Ottoman Empire and argue that the law would pose a threat to freedom of speech.
Armenia, whose stance on the issue is supported by many historians, says Turkey systematically murdered 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1917. According to Ankara, however, only half a million people died and their deaths do not constitute genocide. Turkey claims there were heavy losses on both sides of the conflict and that Armenian partisans supported the Russian military invasion of the former Ottoman Empire.
The law has prompted a rupture in relations between France and Turkey, which has charged that Sarkozy is just doing his best to get the votes of the half-million strong Armenian minority in France ahead of the presidential elections. However, the law was supported not just by Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement, but also by the opposition Socialist Party.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said today after the Constitutional Council verdict that the Turkish Government would consider renewing economic, military and political contacts frozen by Ankara after the law was adopted. For his part, Sarkozy immediately called on the French Government to develop a new bill that would take the Constitutional Council's decision into account. His office released a statement saying that genocide denial must not be tolerated and must be punished.