PARIS, France—On Feb. 28, the French Constitutional Council deemed unconstitutional the Jan. 23 bill that would have penalized the denial of genocide, arguing that it curbs freedom of speech. The bill would have rendered punishable the denial of all genocides France has officially recognized, including the Armenian Genocide. France already has a law in place penalizing Holocaust denial.
Turkey welcomed the ruling. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that officials would meet to consider reestablishing contacts with France, which were frozen after the French Parliament passed the bill on Jan. 23, reported Reuters.
After being approved by the National Assembly and Senate, the law was put on hold on Jan. 31 after two separate groups of French politicians who opposed the legislation–from both the Senate and the Lower House–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.
The Constitutional Council had three options in its decision: It could have ruled that the resolution as approved was consistent with the French Constitution, thereby paving the way for a presidential signature. It could have determined that portions of the bill were not consistent with the French Constitution, in which case the bill would have returned to the National Assembly to be amended (which could have caused problems, as the National Assembly is scheduled to go on vacation to prepare for the presidential elections). Or, it could have found—as it did—the resolution entirely unconstitutional, requiring Sarkozy to re-introduce the matter in the National Assembly.
On Feb. 1, two ministers told AFP that if France’s top judicial body were to reject the bill, Sarkozy would submit a new draft of a law punishing denial of the Armenian Genocide.
“The president told us in cabinet that he would immediately submit a new draft if there is a rejection by the Constitutional Council,” said one of the ministers, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Another minister said Sarkozy had criticized cabinet members who had opposed the bill, saying, they “did not see past the ends of their noses.”
A rejection of the bill by the Constitutional Council could open the door to questioning a law already in place that penalizes denial of the Holocaust.
On Dec. 22, the French General Assembly 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.