STRASBOURG, France (Combined Sources) — The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held a Grand Chamber hearing on Wednesday, January 28, on the case of Perinçek v. Switzerland (application no. 27510/08). The case concerns the criminal conviction of Turkish politician Dogu Perinçek for publicly denying the Armenian Genocide while in Switzerland.
On March 9, 2007, the Lausanne Police Court had convicted Perinçek of racial discrimination under Article 261, Paragraph 4 of the Swiss Criminal Code, finding that his motives were of a racist tendency and did not merely contribute to a historical debate. After exhausting his appeals, which were dismissed at various levels of the Swiss courts including the Federal Court of Switzerland, Perinçek’s appealed to the ECHR on June 10, 2008.
Gevorg Kostanyan, prosecutor general of Armenia and agent representing the government of Armenia during the proceedings, said: “As an intervener, Armenia’s role is to point to the correct principles under which this case should be decided and to indicate errors that have infected the lower court judgment. Whether or not its conclusion was correct does not matter, as much as certain misstatements of fact, which have comforted genocide deniers throughout the world. We are here to ensure that such errors should never be repeated by a court that speaks in the name of human rights.”
Geoffrey Robertson, counsel representing the Armenian government, began his argument by referring to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. He said, “It sets up a presumption in favor of free speech, in a Convention that protects other rights to human dignity, to live free of torture and discrimination, to say ‘I am Jewish,’ ‘I am Muslim,’ or ‘I am Armenian,’ without fear that the race we happen to be born into will be stigmatized as inferior or sub-human.”
He also referred to “egregious errors” made by the Lower Chamber, which he urged the Grand Chamber not to repeat. Robertson summed up the key issue in the case: The issue in this case is whether the Swiss law, under which this man, Perinçek, was convicted … conforms to the Freedom of Expression Guarantee under Article 10 of the European Convention…Article 10 has its proviso, which permits speech to be restrained by law on those occasions when it’s likely to and intended to, cause harm to incite racial violence or hatred. Now, in the mouth of a rabid racist with a doctorate in law and a political party at his back, and people waving flags and fists outside this Court now, genocide denial can have a double impact: It makes the survivors of genocide and their children and grandchildren feel the worthlessness and contempt and inferiority that the initial perpetrators intended, and it incites admiration for those perpetrators and a dangerous desire to emulate them. In this case, the Swiss courts decided that Perinçek’s intentions were racist…that his words in the Turkish language were designed to arouse his supporters in Turkey to hate Armenians and applaud his hero, Talaat Pasha, the Ottoman Hitler.”