The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that a Turkish politician should not have been prosecuted for denying that the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turkey was a genocide.
Judges ruled by 10 votes to seven that Dogu Perincek’s 2007 conviction for racial discrimination by a Swiss court infringed his right to free speech.
Mr Perincek had said “the Armenian genocide is a big fat lie”.
The ECHR ruled that Mr Perincek had not called for “hatred or intolerance”.
The chairman of Turkey’s left-wing Patriotic Party used a series of press conferences in 2005 to blame Western countries and Tsarist Russia for stoking tensions between Muslims and Armenians to undermine the Ottoman Empire, and argued that the resulting deaths in 1915 were not a premeditated attempt to wipe out an ethnic group.
The ECHR found that his statements related to an issue of “public interest” and “could not be regarded as affecting the dignity of the members of the Armenian community to the point of requiring a criminal law response”.
The court made a distinction with Holocaust denial, which judges said could always be seen as a form of incitement to racial hatred in certain countries.
Denying that the Armenian killings were a genocide is illegal in Switzerland as well as Cyprus, Slovakia, and Greece.
Turkey denies committing genocide and says 500,000 people died, not 1.5 million as claimed by Armenia.
The ECHR said it was up to international criminal courts to decide whether the killings were a genocide.
But it ruled that the Swiss courts appeared to have punished Mr Perincek “simply for voicing an opinion that diverged from the established ones in Switzerland”.
The ECHR’s Grand Chamber ruling is final and binding on all Council of Europe members.
The Swiss government said it would examine the judgement to assess whether any change was required to its anti-racism law—because this ruling has clearly opened the door on the legality of questioning the Jewish “holocaust” as well.