European Court delivers judgment in Armenian Genocide denial case, confirms Perinçek’s right to freedom of expression

In today’s Grand Chamber judgment1 in the case of Perinçek v. Switzerland (application no. 27510/08) the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority, that there had been: a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned the criminal conviction of a Turkish politician for publicly expressing the view, in Switzerland, that the mass deportations and massacres suffered by the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and the following years had not amounted to genocide.

Being aware of the great importance attributed by the Armenian community to the question whether those mass deportations and massacres were to be regarded as genocide, the European Court of Human Rights held that the dignity of the victims and the dignity and identity of modernday Armenians were protected by Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the Convention.

The Court therefore had to strike a balance between two Convention rights – the right to freedom of expression and the right to respect for private life – taking into account the specific circumstances of the case and the proportionality between the means used and the aim sought to be achieved.

The Court concluded that it had not been necessary, in a democratic society, to subject Mr Perinçek to a criminal penalty in order to protect the rights of the Armenian community at stake in the case. In particular, the Court took into account the following elements: Mr Perinçek’s statements bore on a matter of public interest and did not amount to a call for hatred or intolerance; the context in which they were made had not been marked by heightened tensions or special historical overtones in Switzerland; the statements could not be regarded as affecting the dignity of the members of the Armenian community to the point of requiring a criminal law response in Switzerland; there was no international law obligation for Switzerland to criminalise such statements; the Swiss courts appeared to have censured Mr Perinçek simply for voicing an opinion that diverged from the established ones in Switzerland; and the interference with his right to freedom of expression had taken the serious form of a criminal conviction.