ECHR confirms Perincek's right to freedom of speech in Genocide row

ECHR confirms Perincek's right to freedom of speech in Genocide row

PanARMENIAN.Net - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg has ruled that Switzerland violated Dogu Perincek's right to freedom of speech, Swissinfo reports.

The decision of the 17-judge ECHR Grand Chamber is final, and puts to rest a string of legal decisions and appeals in the case of Perincek vs Switzerland dating back to 2007.

It was undisputed that Mr Perinçek’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 under Article 10. The Court did not find, as was argued by the Swiss Government, that the interference could be justified under Article 16 of the Convention, which provides that nothing in Article 10 shall be regarded as preventing the High Contracting Parties from imposing restrictions on the political activity of aliens. Article 16 had never been applied by the Court. It had to be borne in mind that clauses that permitted interference with Convention rights had to be interpreted restrictively. The Court found that Article 16 should be interpreted as only capable of authorising restrictions on activities which directly affected the political process, which had not been the case here, ECHR said in a statement. Dogu Perincek, the Chairman of the Turkish Worker's Party, first made headlines in 2005 when he stated during three separate public events in Switzerland that the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918 did not constitute genocide.

At a celebration of the 82nd anniversary of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which officially established the borders of modern-day Turkey, Perincek said it was an “international lie” to classify the mass deaths of Armenians near the end of the First World War as genocide.

Because the event took place in Lausanne, Perincek was allegedly in violation of Swiss anti-racism legislation.

The Switzerland-Armenia Association (SAA) submitted an official complaint against Perincek for these comments. He was then charged on the grounds that denying, belittling or justifying genocide violates Swiss anti-racism law. Perincek was tried and found guilty of racial discrimination by the Lausanne District Court in March 2007, and sentenced to fines and prison time.

At each level of authority, and after a rigorous examination of law and of facts, the Swiss courts sentenced Perincek for denying the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide. For the Grand Chamber, however, the Swiss condemnation violates the freedom of expression of Perincek (art. 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights).

The SAA affirms that while freedom of expression is essential and fundamental in a democratic society, it is not absolute. Freedom of expression cannot be misused for rewriting history, particularly so for seeking to deny or justify genocide, which is the most absolute and heinous of crimes.

By the present judgment, the Grand Chamber basically challenges the assessment made by the Swiss courts, in breach of the basic principle of subsidiarity upon which by the European Convention on Human Rights relies. This judgment undermines the solemn recognitions that occurred during the commemoration of the centenary of the Armenian Genocide that took place this year, including that of Pope Francis, ruled last April 12th at the Vatican. The present international consensus that the extermination of Armenians in 1915 constituted genocide is a historically self-evident fact, SAA said in a statement.

The SAA can only note that it is Turkey which, from the beginning, fomented and utilized Perincek as the effective experimental ‘salesman’ of its campaign for State denialism. The SAA solemnly calls upon member States of the Council of Europe to take responsibility to pursue such cases of denialism that effectively reflect an utter rejection of the values by the Convention.

The SAA emphasizes that the judgment of the Court applies only in respect of the proceedings leading to the conviction in Switzerland of Mr. Perincek. It does not call into question the legality and existence of the anti-racism norm, as it is in force in Switzerland. This standard is not deemed contrary to the Convention, but rather reinforces and validates its values and foundations.

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