PARIS—The French Constitutional Council just issued a statement considering the bill penalizing the denial of genocides unconstitutional, arguing that it curbs freedom of speech. The bill would have rendered punishable the denial of genocides France has officially recognized, like the Armenian genocide. France already has a law in place penalizing Holocaust denial.
Turkey welcomed the ruling. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the cabinet would meet to consider restarting contacts with France, which were frozen after the French parliament passed the bill on Jan. 23, reported Reuters.
Armenian National Committee of France Executive Director Hratch Varjabedian, speaking to Yekir Media, condemned the decision, stating that the French Court succumbed to Turkey’s political pressure. He announced that the French Armenian community plans to protest the decision and work with legislators to move the issue forward through other avenues, as part of the ongoing effort to seek justice for the Armenian Genocide.
The Constitutional Council had three options in addressing the genocide bill: It could have ruled that the resolution as approved is consistent with the constitution, and thus pave the way for a presidential signature; could have determined that portions of the bill are not consistent with the French Constitution, in which case the bill would return to the National Assembly to be amended (which could cause problems, since the National Assembly will go on vacation to prepare for the presidential elections); or could have found the resolution entirely unconstitutional, in which case French President Nicolas Sarkozy would have to re-introduce the matter in the National Assembly.
On Feb. 1, two ministers told AFP that Sarkozy will immediately submit a new draft of a law punishing denial of the Armenian Genocide if France’s top judicial body rejects it.
“The president told us in cabinet that he would immediately submit a new draft if there is a rejection by the Constitutional Council” of a bill approved recently by the French Parliament, said one of the ministers, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Another minister said Sarkozy criticized cabinet members who had opposed the bill, saying, they “did not see past the ends of their noses.”
He said a rejection of the bill by the Constitutional Council could open the door to questioning a law that penalizes denial of the Holocaust.
After being approved by the National Assembly and Senate, the law was put on hold on Jan. 31 after politicians opposed to the legislation demanded that its constitutionality be examined.
Two separate groups of French politicians who oppose the legislation–from both the Senate and the Lower House–had formally requested the Constitutional Council to examine the law. The groups said they each had gathered more than the minimum 60 signatures required to ask the council to test the law’s constitutionality.
By law, the council was obliged to deliver its judgment within a month.
On Dec. 22, the French General Assembly had approved the bill, prompting Ankara to withdraw its ambassador from Paris, only to have him return a few weeks later.
France adopted a bill officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide in 2001.