Thursday, 29 January 2015

Amal Clooney takes on Doğu Perincek over Armenian killings and freedom of expression


Doğu Perinçek, chairman of the Turkish Workers' Party and an MP, is back at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to defend his right to freedom of speech. He was found guilty of genocide denial and racial discrimination in Switzerland in 2007, but had his conviction overturned at the ECHR in 2013 in a case supported by the government of Turkey. Switzerland appealed the decision and since September, Armenia has also become a party to the case, represented by barristers Amal Clooney and Geoffrey Robertson QC of Doughty Street Chambers.

At the ECHR yesterday, Mrs Clooney accused Turkey of double standards on freedom of expression for defending the Turkish Leftist who described the Armenian genocide an "international lie". She said Turkey's stance was hypocritical "because of its disgraceful record on freedom of expression”, pointing to the prosecutions of Turkish-Armenians such as the late Hrant Dink who campaigned for the1915-16 massacres to be called a genocide.

She also told Strasbourg court’s judges they were “simply wrong” for failing to uphold Swiss laws to prosecute those who deny the Armenian genocide.

Previously, the European court concluded that there was not a “general consensus" that the massacres of Armenians had constituted genocide and that only 20 countries out of 190 worldwide classed it as such. Only three European countries, Greece, Slovakia and Switzerland, ban the Armenian genocide denial. The French had also tried, but the decision was overturned on free speech grounds in the country’s constitutional court three years ago.

Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson QC \at the ECHR
In its December 2013 ruling, the ECHR stated that “free exercise of the right to openly discuss questions of a sensitive and controversial nature is one of the fundamental aspects of freedom of expression and distinguishes a tolerant and pluralistic democratic society from a totalitarian or dictatorial regime.”

With some 200 supporters outside and a host of Turkish personalities in the courtroom, including former CHP leader Deniz Baykal and former AKP minister Egemen Bağış, Doğu Perinçek addressed the court and said: “We are here for the liberty of Europeans… Liberty for those who criticise the established status quo.”

Perinçek reiterated the ECHR’s 2013 decision and reminded the court that the ruling had determined that opinions on the 1915 incidents were still disputable. He stated that genocide was a “judicial phrase” and his personal studies indicated that the Ottoman Empire did not act with a motive to completely destroy Armenian society in Anatolia.

He admitted that there were “forced migrations and mutual slaughter,” but claimed that discussion of the events had become a taboo and the term genocide has become a way to insult Turks in Europe.

He added, “I share the pain of Armenian citizens, you can not find a word of mine that expresses antagonism against them. I hold the great powers responsible for what happened in 1915. There should be no taboos for the right to speak.”

During the two-hour hearing, Perinçek’s lawyers Mehmet Cengiz and Stefan Talmon also underlined the right to freedom of expression in Europe.

The ECHR’s Grand Chamber, comprised of 17 members, will give its final decision in the coming months. Its ruling will not determine whether the Armenian massacres amounted to genocide, but simply whether Switzerland’s laws infringe Doğu Perinçek’s freedom of expression.


European Courtrules denying Armenian “genocide” not a crime, 20 Jan 2014

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