French Highest Court Strikes Down Law Criminalizing Denial of Armenian Genocide

Previously we discussed the new French law making it a crime for citizens to deny or minimize the genocide of Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century. It was discussed as part of a worrisome trend of limitations on free speech in the West through blasphemy, hate speech, and discrimination laws. Now the French Supreme Court has shown all of the principle that was so lacking in the government and struck down the law. In so doing, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the French commitment to liberty. To those jurists, I say “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!”

The law would have punished such a denial with up to a year in prison and a maximum fine of roughly $60,000. Last year, when France’s Parliament was first considering the bill, we said on this page that we found it to be a particularly egregious encroachment on civil liberties. The French council has now concluded much the same, saying such a law “infringed unconstitutionally on the exercise of the liberty of expression and communication.”

Yet, French President Sarkozy is undeterred and vowed to redraft the law. There is some language of concern in the decision from the Constitutional Council where it suggested that some limitations could be placed on speech to protect privacy and public order, but that such limitations must be “necessary, adapted and proportional.” Notably, we have the same caveat in our own first amendment opinions, but its meaning could differ significantly in future cases. That was enough of an opening for the government. Sarkozy’s office seemed to immediately latch on to the language and stated that “The President of the Republic considers that (genocide) denial is intolerable and must therefore be punished.” What is intolerable, however, is using the criminal code to combat anti-historical speech — as defined by the government. If government can define the “correct” history for citizens to recite, they can rewrite history in their preferred image.

Source: News Observer

12 thoughts on “French Highest Court Strikes Down Law Criminalizing Denial of Armenian Genocide”

  1. While I do not favor cencorship, I would like to see sanctions for inappropriate comparisons to the Holocaust and Hitler. These references are used by “Bibi” and other warmonger to frighten and win sympathy from the gullible.

  2. Pasture – what that has to do with a foreign government demanding other nations not recognize their role in genocide is beyond me.

    The French still have a long way to go in recognizing their role in the shoah but they are making baby steps, at least as well as we are doing with our two genocidal efforts. But in neither the French nor American situation is the official government position that nothing happened and no one is allowed to say otherwise – that would include other governments.

    Your admiration for Mr. Sarkozy intrigues me, do you live in France?

  3. Professor, perhaps you could give me a quick primer on our own hate speech laws. Even though as a trans woman who is also bi I enjoy the “protection” of these laws they have always struck and unpleasant chord with me.
    Do these laws tack on a separate crime from the actual criminal act? If so, I have a severe problem with that. I don’t care why someone attacked me, just that they attacked me. Now if the laws were to make it clearer that hate speech could be used to determine factors such as premeditation when figuring out what the best charge should be, I might better appreciate it.

  4. The frogs ought to own up for their role in the Holocaust. People in this day and age think that Vichy is a french wine. Their version of history is all wine and roses. The Nazi German government was a state and both it and the individuals prosecuted at Nuremberg were guilty of crimes against humanity. We wanted to keep the French from going Communist so we glossed over the role of the Vichy government and the thousands of French criminals who participated in the Holocaust. Sarkozy is a righteous little bastard who needs to retire to Sardinia or whereever he is from.

  5. The case I mentioned above is:

    In re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001
    03 MDL 1570 (GBD)
    ECF Case

    This document applies to:

    Federal Insurance Co., et al. v. Al Qaida, et al.,
    Case No. 03-CV-06978

    Vigilant Insurance Co., et al. v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, et al.,
    Case No. 03-CV-08591

    Pacific Employers Insurance, et al. v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, et al.,
    Case No. 04-CV-7216

    Thomas Burnett, Sr., et al. v. Al Baraka Inv. & Dev. Corp., et al.,
    Case No. 03-CV-09849

    Euro Brokers Inc., et al., v. Al Baraka, et al.,
    Case No. 04-CV-7279

    Kathleen Ashton, et al. v. Al Qaeda Islamic Army, et al.,
    Case No. 02-CV-06977

    Estate of John P. O’Neill, Sr., et al. v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,
    Case No. 04-CV-1922

    Continental Casualty Co., et al. v. Al Qaeda, et al.,
    Case No. 04-CV-5970

    Cantor Fitzgerald & Co., et al. v. Akida Bank Private., Ltd., et al.,
    Case No. 04-CV-7065

    (See Plaintiff’s Reply). The plaintiffs are basing a motion for relief on Doe v. Bin Laden, 663 F.3d 64 (2d Cir. 2011), which they claim gives them grounds for relief from a prior judgment against them.

  6. I think the French took a very large step in forcing the world to recognize what happened to the Armenians. That the law was struck down is a good thing but we need to stop pandering to the Turks on this issue. Nations do bad things once in a while. Our own genocide against native peoples has never been sincerely addressed and the full details of the horrors inflicted on blacks are willingly ignored. But at least we do not pressure other nations to pretend we didn’t do these things.

    Its time for Turkey to join the grown ups & admit they have done wrong in their past too.

  7. What AY said, because it is a turn for the better.

    If government can define the “correct” history for citizens to recite, they can rewrite history in their preferred image.”

    We have a blind spot in the U.S., in the sense we can see the sins of the French in this context, but we still can’t see our own sins.

    We are culturally forbidden to deny the official story of 9/11, but so far it is not a criminal matter. It is “only” a matter that will cause you to be ostracized, should you choose to raise the matter “in good company” like a couple of U.S. Senators did in an ongoing federal case in Manhattan recently.

    State Crimes Against Democracy.

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