France’s upper house of parliament approved on Friday a new bill criminalizing the denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey and other crimes against humanity recognized by the French state.
The bill hailed by Armenia was unanimously approved by the French lower house, the National Assembly, in the first reading in July. It stipulates that any public denial of those atrocities will be punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment and a 45,000-euro ($50,000) fine.
Currently, French law only makes it a crime to deny the Holocaust.
French lawmakers already passed a law against Armenian genocide denial about four years ago. The French constitutional court subsequently struck down that law, however, saying that it runs counter to freedom of speech.
Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande pledged to have Armenian genocide denial banned again before he was elected France’s president in 2012. He told leaders of France’s influential Armenian community that a new bill should be drafted with “utmost legal security” so that it satisfies the constitutional court.
Hollande, 61, is expected to run for a second term in presidential elections slated for April-May 2017. His government’s support for the measure long championed by the Armenian community appears to have been decisive for the outcome of Friday’s vote in the French Senate.
"We do not have to characterize historical facts, it is the task of historians,” Patrick Kanner, the French minister for urban affairs, youth and sports, was quoted by Europe1.fr as telling the Senate. But he said the French state must make it clear that genocide denial is “a crime that incites hatred and, as such, threatens our social peace."
The Senate passed the bill by 156 votes to 146. Most of the senators that backed the measure are Socialists.
Armenia was quick to hail the development. “With this step, France once again reaffirmed its valuable role in condemning genocides perpetrated in the past, fighting against their denial and preventing new crimes against humanity,” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said in a statement.
President Serzh Sarkisian also praised the French bill when he met with Hollande on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Warsaw in July. Sarkisian gave Hollande credit for it was passage by the French lower house.
Turkey expressed concern over the new French bill against genocide denial shortly after the National Assembly vote. The Turkish Foreign Ministry urged the French Senate to reject its “elements that may have the potential to pose the risk of limiting the freedom of expression.” It clearly referred to the World War One-era slaughter of up to 1.5 million Armenians which France officially recognized as genocide in 2001.
Ankara strongly denies that the mass killings constituted genocide. It did not immediately react to the Senate vote.