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 that 1915 Armenian killings in 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 to a criminal penalty in order to protect the rights of the Armenian community at stake in the case.
“It was undisputed that Mr 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.
Q&A: The legal battle over ‘Armenian genocide’
Yunus Soner, Dogu Perincek’s senior adviser and vice-chairman of his Vatan Party, told Al Jazeera that the ECHR confirmed denial of genocide claims is a valid opinion and banning it is a violation of human rights.
“It is a milestone judgement for Turkey and wider region, ending the lie of Armenian Genocide. This lie was a part of the plot to divide Turkey and it was made popular by the West for this reason.
“It is a massive victory for Turkey, dedicated, by Mr Perincek, to Turkish army who has been fighting for Turkey’s unity.”
The case was between Switzerland, where denying the “Armenian Genocide” was a crime, and Dogu Perincek, the Turkish politician who publicly called it an “international lie” while he was in Switzerland in 2005.
He was convicted by a Swiss judiciary in 2007 in a case filed by Switzerland-Armenia Association and brought the case to the ECHR in 2008.
The ECHR’s first verdict in 2013 was in Perincek’s favour, but it was appealed by Switzerland, which was concluded on Thursday.
‘A natural judgement’
Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s former foreign minister and government MP, told Al Jazeera that it was natural judgement 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 is natural for the court come to this verdict.”
“European countries, who claim to defend democratic values, have passed laws restricting freedom of speech over how to define certain incidents, such as the co-called Armenian Genocide,” he said.
Cavusoglu added: “Even in France, the law [passed by jurisdiction] cancelled by the Constitutional Court. The ECHR has abolished these bizarre practises in Europe. In Turkey, there is freedom of speech and there are people who deny or accept the so-called Armenian Genocide. They are free to do so.”
Armenian MP Tevan Poghosyan told Al Jazeera that the court did not discuss the factuality of the “Armenian Genocide” as an historical fact or even the criminilisation 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 denying it [the genocide], but people who are trying to promote xenophobia, spreading atrocities, etc.”
In its judgement on Thursday, the court 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, adding that the verdict was specifically on 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, meanwhile, says 1.5 million died in the process – including the march to Syria – 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.