The government of Switzerland announced on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 that it will appeal a December 17, 2013 decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) overturning the conviction of Dogu Perinçek for denying the Armenian genocide. Many Armenian organizations around the world had met Swiss diplomats urging their government to appeal the ECHR ruling.
The decision was made by Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice, which is asking the ECHR Grand Chamber to review the ruling to clarify the scope available to Swiss authorities in applying the Swiss Criminal Code to combat racism. Switzerland created this penal provision, which entered into force in 1995, to close loopholes in its criminal law and enable the country to accede to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Under the provisions of this law, in 2007, Turkish citizen Doğu Perinçek was convicted for denying the Armenian Genocide. Failing to win two appeals against the judgment, he appealed the ECHR, which on December 17 ruled that the Swiss courts’ rulings violated the appellant’s right to freedom of expression.
The ruling stated that “the free exercise of the right to openly discuss questions of a sensitive and controversial nature is one of the fundamental aspects of freedom of expression and distinguishes a tolerant and pluralistic democratic society from a totalitarian or dictatorial regime.”
The original case emerged from Perinçek’s participation in a number of conferences in Switzerland in 2005, during which he publicly denied that the Ottoman Empire had perpetrated the crime of genocide against the Armenian people in 1915. Now aged 71, Perinçek has been the chairman of the Socialist Workers Party of Turkey since 1992 and was sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment as part of the Ergenekon trials in August 2013.
After a complaint filed by the Switzerland-Armenia Association on July 15, 2005, the Lausanne Police Court found Perinçek guilty of racial discrimination on March 9, 2007, based on the Swiss Criminal Code. His motives were found to be of a “racist tendency” and did not contribute to the historical debate.
“The Court underlined that the free exercise of the right to openly discuss questions of a sensitive and controversial nature was one of the fundamental aspects of freedom of expression and distinguished a tolerant and pluralistic democratic society from a totalitarian or dictatorial regime,” said the official ECHR press release in December 2013.
“The Court also pointed out that it was not called upon to rule on the legal characterization of the Armenian genocide. The existence of a ‘genocide,’ which was a precisely defined legal concept, was not easy to prove. The Court doubted that there could be a general consensus as to events such as those at issue, given that historical research was by definition open to discussion and a matter of debate, without necessarily giving rise to final conclusions or to the assertion of objective and absolute truths,” added the ECHR release.
“Lastly, the Court observed that those States which had officially recognized the Armenian genocide had not found it necessary to enact laws imposing criminal sanctions on individuals questioning the official view, being mindful that one of the main goals of freedom of expression was to protect minority views capable of contributing to a debate on questions of general interest which were not fully settled,” explained the ECHR.