The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Switzerland violated a Turkish politician’s right to freedom of speech by convicting him for rejecting the claim that the 1915 Armenian killings in the Ottoman empire constituted a genocide.
The court, ECHR, concluded in its final binding judgement on Thursday that it had not been necessary, in a democratic society, to subject Dogu Perincek to a criminal penalty in order to protect the rights of the Armenian community at stake in the case.
“It was undisputed that Perincek’s conviction and punishment, together with the order to pay compensation to the Switzerland-Armenia Association, had constituted an interference with the exercise of his right to freedom of expression,” a statement by the court said.
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Yunus Soner, Dogu Perincek’s senior adviser and vice-chairman of his Vatan Party, told Al Jazeera that the ECHR confirmed that denial of genocide claims was a valid opinion and banning it was a violation of human rights.
“It is a milestone judgement for Turkey and the wider region, ending the lie of the Armenian Genocide. This lie was a part of the plot to divide Turkey and it was made popular by the West for this reason,” he said.”It is a massive victory for Turkey, dedicated, by Mr Perincek, to the Turkish army who have been fighting for Turkey’s unity.”
The case pitted Switzerland, where denying the “Armenian Genocide” was a crime, against Perincek, the Turkish politician who publicly called it an “international lie” while he was in Switzerland in 2005.
He was convicted by a Swiss court in 2007 in a case filed by the Switzerland-Armenia Association.
The next year Perincek took the case to the ECHR, a supranational human rights court with jurisdiction over 47 countries.
The ECHR’s first verdict in 2013 was in Perincek’s favour, but it was appealed by Switzerland, which was concluded on Thursday.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, an MP from Turkey’s governing party and a former foreign minister, told Al Jazeera that the verdict was a natural outcome taken for legal reasons, not political ones.
“The ECHR is the house of democracy, rule of law and human rights, which also includes the freedom of expression. For this reason, it was natural for the court come to this verdict,” he said.
“European countries, who claim to defend democratic values, have passed laws restricting freedom of speech over how to define certain incidents, such as the so-called Armenian Genocide.”
Cavusoglu said: “Even in France, such a law [passed by the jurisdiction] was cancelled by the Constitutional Court. The ECHR judgement has abolished these bizarre practices in Europe.”
Tevan Poghosyan, a member of Armenia’s parliament, told Al Jazeera the court did not discuss the factuality of the “Armenian Genocide” or even the criminalisation of it.
“How the law was implemented in the Swiss case was the issue,” he said.
“The court said that a country has a right to criminalise denial if they consider it an offence. However, application of it should not target people simply denying it [the genocide], but people who are trying to promote xenophobia, spreading atrocities, etc.”
Criminalisation of denial
In its judgement on Thursday, the ECHR said that it was not required to determine whether the criminalisation of the denial of genocide or other historical facts might in principle be justified.
It said the verdict was specifically in the case of Perincek.
Turkey agrees that many Armenians died in ethnic fighting and the deportation process between 1915 and 1917 during World War I, putting its estimate at 300,000 casualties.
Armenia says 1.5 million died in the process in what it calls a genocide.
The accusation is denied by Turkey, who says there was no systematic attempt to kill all Armenians.
The denial of the Armenian Genocide is officially outlawed in Switzerland, Cyprus, Slovakia, and Greece.