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French Genocide Denial Ban Is Unconstitutional, Court Says

A French court said a law criminalizing some statements about the mass killing of Armenians by Turkey in the last century was unconstitutional.

France’s Senate passed the bill in January, making denial of genocides recognized by France, including Armenia, punishable by as long as a year in prison and a 45,000-euro ($60,500) fine. The French “legislature committed an unconstitutional harm to freedom of expression and speech,” the constitutional court said in a statement on its website today.

The measure, presented by a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, was re-written to remove direct references to Turkey and the Armenians. The move raised tensions with Turkey and the Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned it as “an example of irresponsibility.”

Sarkozy “asked the government to prepare a new bill, taking into account the decision” of the court, according to an e-mailed statement that noted “the immense disappointment and profound sadness” of those who supported the law.

Turkey froze political and military relations with France after the lower chamber’s Dec. 22 vote. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sarkozy’s governing party used it to shore up public support before presidential elections in May. Sarkozy also opposes Turkey’s membership in the European Union.

Eight members of France’s National Assembly issued a statement “regretting” the court’s decision and saying they submitted a resolution “to reaffirm the fight against disputing the existence of genocides.”

“This recognition has a clearly symbolic weight,” the lawmakers said. “Only the denial of the Jewish genocide constitutes a crime today.”

Sarkozy will meet with representatives of the Armenian community in France about the ruling, according to the statement.

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