The bill, passed in the French Senate on Monday night, sets a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros for those who deny or "outrageously minimize" such events. French Parliament already passed a resolution describing the killings of Armenians during World War I in eastern Anatolia as genocide.
Turkey, which denies the genocide charges saying there were many deaths on both sides as Armenians revolted against the Ottoman Empire for independence, has threatened to impose sanctions if the bill becomes a law. The bill needs to be approved by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is known to back the measure, to go into effect, something French officials said would take place within two weeks.
"This bill, if implemented, would have a chilling effect on public debate and contravene France's international obligations to uphold freedom of expression," said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International, according to a statement released by the Amnesty International on Tuesday. "People should be free to express their opinions on this issue -- in France, Turkey and elsewhere."
Noting that Turkish laws penalizing description of the 1915 events as genocide are also in violation of freedom of expression, the Amnesty International official recalled that the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly held that freedom of expression applies not only to inoffensive ideas, "but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population."
"International human rights law allows for restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression if necessary and proportionate for certain specific purposes including respect of the rights or reputations of others or to protect national security or public order," the statement read. "Amnesty International believes that neither of these applies in this instance, and the new legislation would criminalize the exercise of freedom of expression that is seen as 'outrageously' contesting or trivializing historical events or their characterization."
Turkey has argued the bill would compromise freedom of expression in France, with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu saying that "a new ... Inquisition" will begin in Europe if each country's parliament makes decisions based on its own views of history and implements them. "European values are under threat," Davutoğlu said earlier this week.
"The real issue at stake with this bill is not whether the large-scale killings and forced displacement of Armenians in 1915 constituted a genocide, but the French authorities' attempt to curtail freedom of expression in response to that debate," Duckworth said. "French authorities are failing to comply with their international human rights obligations."