FRENCH COURT CANCELS 'GENOCIDE' DENIAL BILL

Hurriyet Daily News
Feb 28 2012
Turkey

France's Constitutional Council has struck down a government-backed law
criminalizing denials of the 1915 events as genocide on the grounds
that it contradicts the French constitution in a move that looks set
to ward off a deepening crisis in Turkish-French ties.

Ankara expressed its satisfaction with the law and said this would
remove hurdles standing in the way of the improvement of relations
between the two countries.

The council's decision was posted on the official website late
yesterday after a month-long examination of the much discussed law.

"The council considered the law unconstitutional," read the press
statement made by the council, which based its verdict on the relevant
articles of the "1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the
Citizen," the fundamental document of the French Revolution. It said
the law was not in line with the declaration's 6th and 11the articles,
which highlight freedom of expression and thought, one of the main
pillars of the democracy.

"Therefore the Constitutional Council has declared the
unconstitutionality of Article 1 of the law and consequently Article 2,
which is not separable," it said.

There were comments that the court's decision would also put the
validity of a 2001 law recognizing Armenian genocide claims into a
legal discussion. However, the council's decision said this did not
affect the 2001 law as it was not asked to make an assessment on
that legislation.

"We hope those who want to make politics over history will have a
lesson from this verdict," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told
reporters in a statement after the release of the verdict. "This is
a very positive decision. I thank the members of the council for the
respectful decision. It will set a precedent as well," he added."This
will be exemplary," Davutoglu told journalists yesterday evening. "It
is an important step regarding [the prevention] of small calculations
gaining legal ground. We hope that those who seek political aims over
the histories of societies get a legal lesson."

The decision allows the creation of an environment in which all
historical issues can be freely discussed in accordance with freedom
of expression, Davutoglu added. "Thus, it is a positive contribution
regarding Turkish-Armenian ties."

The law, introduced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party was
first approved by Parliament on Dec. 22 and then by the French Senate
on Jan. 23. The measure set a punishment of up to one year in prison
and a fine of 45,000 euros for those who deny or outrageously minimize
the killings.

With the high court decision, the law is null and void and the entire
legislative process will have to begin from the very beginning.

The adoption of the law in Parliament and the Senate drew Ankara's
strong reactions with a package of sanctions against France. Its
eight-article sanctions were focused on banning French military using
Turkish airspace and territorial waters, cutting some political ties
with indirect threats to boycott French goods.

Apart from diplomatic initiatives, Turkey also mobilized large French
companies which had significant investments in Turkey to urge French
lawmakers to take the law to the council. A sum of 142 lawmakers
and senators appealed to the court in late January after the Senate
approved it. In a move to give time for collecting signatures for
taking the law to court, Sarkozy did not rush to sign the law which
would have put the law into effect.