Perinçek v. Switzerland
|Perinçek v. Switzerland|
|Court||European Court of Human Rights|
|Decided||15 October 2015|
|Prior action(s)||Chamber judgment 2013|
Perinçek v. Switzerland is a 2013 judgment of the European Court of Human Rights concerning public statements by Doğu Perinçek, a political activist, lawyer and former Chairman of the Workers' Party, who was convicted by a Swiss court for publicly denying the historical fact of the Armenian genocide.[a]
A preliminary hearing on the appeal by Switzerland was held on 28 January 2015. The Grand Chamber ruled in favour of Perinçek on 15 October 2015, who has argued his right to freedom of expression.
During his visits to Switzerland, Doğu Perinçek, a Turkish political activist, repeatedly called the Armenian Genocide of 1915 a "great international lie". He was found guilty of racial discrimination by a Swiss district court in Lausanne in March 2007. He was sentenced to 90 days imprisonment and fined 3000 Swiss francs. At the trial, Perinçek denied the charge thus: "I have not denied genocide because there was no genocide." After the court's decision, he said, "I defend my right to freedom of expression." Perinçek appealed the verdict. In December 2007, the Swiss Federal Court confirmed the sentence given to Perinçek. Perinçek then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
Lower court judgment
In December 2013 the Lower Court of the European Court of Human Rights ruled by 5-2 that Switzerland had violated Doğu Perinçek's freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It ruled that Perinçek had not abused his rights within the meaning of Article 17 of the Convention, which prohibits individuals using the rights of the Convention to seek the abolition or restriction of other individuals' rights guaranteed by the Convention. "The Court considers that the rejection of the legal characterisation of the events of 1915 was not in itself sufficient to amount to incitement of hatred towards the Armenian people." stated the court ruling. "The applicant has not abused his right to engage in open discussion of matters including those which are sensitive and likely to cause offence. The free exercise of this right is one of the fundamental aspects of freedom of expression and distinguishes a democratic, tolerant and pluralist society from a totalitarian or dictatorial regime." 
The Court pointed out that "it was not called upon to rule on the legal characterisation of the Armenian Genocide. The existence of a "genocide", which was a precisely defined legal concept, was not easy to prove. The Court doubted that there could be a general consensus as to events such as those at issue, given that historical research was by definition open to discussion and a matter of debate, without necessarily giving rise to final conclusions or to the assertion of objective and absolute truths."
Appeal and final judgement by the Grand Chamber
After the ruling the government of Switzerland announced its decision to appeal the lower court's ruling. On 3 June 2014 the court accepted the appeal to move on to the Grand Chamber to clarify the scope available to Swiss authorities in applying the Swiss Criminal Code to combat racism.
The first hearing took take place on 28 January 2015 with Perinçek represented by Prof Laurent Pech, head of Department of Law at Middlesex University in London, and Turkey represented as a third party by Prof Stefan Talmon, who is a professor of law at Oxford University. Switzerland was represented by lawyer Frank Schürmann while Armenia was represented as a third party by Doughty Street Chambers led by Geoffrey Robertson QC and Amal Clooney. The Court's subsequent deliberations were held in private. A video of the first hearing of the appeal can be found on the website of the European Court for Human Rights.
While being fully aware of the acute sensitivities attached by the Armenian community to the issue in relation to which the applicant spoke, the Court, taking into account the overall thrust of his statements, did not perceive them as a form of incitement to hatred or intolerance. It is stated multiple times in the Grand Chamber Judgment that the applicant did not express contempt or hatred for the victims of the events of 1915 and the following years. The Grand Chamber held, by ten votes to seven, that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention and ruled in favour of Perinçek on 15 October 2015.
In a statement issued by Armenia's counsel, Geoffrey Robertson and Amal Clooney said they were pleased the Court had endorsed their argument on behalf of Armenia. The judgment did not dispute the fact of the Armenian genocide and recognised Armenians' right under European law to have their dignity respected and protected, including the recognition of a communal identity forged through suffering following the annihilation of more than half their race by the Ottoman Turks.
The Grand Chamber also made clear that the court was not required to determine whether the massacres and mass deportations suffered by the Armenian people at the hands of the Ottoman Empire from 1915 onwards can be characterised as genocide within the meaning of that term under international law. It also added that it has no authority to make legally binding pronouncements, one way or the other, on this point. Furthermore, 7 judges, including then-President of the European Court of Human Rights Dean Spielmann notably stated in a joint dissenting opinion that it was self-evident that the massacres and deportations suffered by the Armenian people constituted genocide and that the Armenian genocide was a clearly established historical fact. "But that is not the question here. The case is not about the historical truth, or the legal characterisation of the events of 1915", they wrote. In the rest of their joint dissenting opinion, they detailed why they were unable to follow the majority's approach as regards the assessment of the applicant's statements.
Professor Dirk Voorhoof of Ghent University wrote a positive critique of the judgment and argues that it "would certainly be a sad day for freedom of expression in Europe" if the judgment was successfully appealed to the Grand Chamber.
The Armenian writer Harut Sassounian described the Court's 2013 judgment an endorsement of the denialist stance of both Turkey and Perinçek. Geoffrey Robertson QC called Perinçek a "vexatious litigant pest" at the European Court of Human Rights hearing. Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance has accused Geoffrey Robertson and Amal Clooney of hypocrisy.
- Perinçek's 2013 indictment in Turkey was unrelated to this case and was to do with the Ergenekon trials where Perinçek was found guilty of plotting against the Turkish government and was given a life sentence (from which he was released in March 2014).
- Voorhoof, Dirk. "Criminal conviction for denying the existence of the Armenian "genocide" violates freedom of expression". strasbourgobservers.com. Strasbourg Observers.
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- "Conviction for denial of Armenia genocide - humanrights.ch". humanrights.ch. 2011-01-12. Retrieved 2014-04-04.
- "Turk guilty over genocide remarks". BBC News. 9 March 2007.
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- ECHR Chamber Judgment, 2013
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- Völkermord-Urteil wird überprüft. (German) Neue Zürcher Zeitung. 3 June 2014. Retrieved 3 June 2014
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- Squires, Nick (12 January 2015). "Amal Clooney takes on Armenia genocide case in European court". The Daily Telegraph.
- Malm, Sara. "It's Amal versus the genocide-deniers: Mrs Clooney leads Euro-court fight for Turkish MP to be prosecuted for calling death of 1.5 million Armenians 'a lie'". The Daily Mail.
- ECHR Grand Chamber Judgment, 2015
- "Robertson, Clooney Issue Statement on ECHR Ruling". asbarez.com/.
- "Switzerland Must Appeal European Court's Verdict on the Armenian Genocide | Asbarez Armenian News". asbarez.com. Retrieved 2014-04-04.
- Third Party - Armenian Government's observations, Hearing of Perinçek v Switzerland Case January 28th, 2015, European Court of Human Rights 
- "Geoffrey Robertson : A Man with two faces", Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance 
- "Caption Contest", Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance's website