France’s constitutional court has struck down 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 passed by both houses of France’s parliament last year took the form of an amendment to a French law on “equality and citizenship.” It stipulated 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.
The French Constitutional Council ruled late on Thursday that this represents an unconstitutional “blow to the freedom of expression which is neither necessary nor proportionate.”
The court already overturned in 2012 a similar law that was engineered by then President Nicolas Sarkozy.
French Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande promised to help enact a new law making it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide before he was elected France’s president later in 2012. Socialist lawmakers overwhelmingly backed the new bill in 2016.
The measure has long been championed by France’s influential Armenian community. Accordingly, the CCAF, an umbrella structure uniting leading French-Armenian organizations, on Friday condemned the court’s decision as a “humiliation” and vowed to continue to fight against genocide denial.
By contrast, Turkey, which strongly denies the extermination of 1.5 million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire, welcomed the ruling. “This decision is a significant legal gain preventing the unlawful restriction of democratic debates on historical controversies for the sake of futile domestic political concerns,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Armenia did not officially react to the development as of Friday evening. Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian praised French lawmakers after they passed the bill in question last year.
France formally recognized the Armenian genocide with a special law enacted in 2001.