French parliamentarians appeal "genocide" bill, Turkey applauds move
French parliamentarians appealed to the country's supreme Constitutional Council to overturn a bill that penalizes denial of "Armenian genocide" claims, a development that raised prospects of annulment of the controversial legislation which has angered Turkey, Today's Zaman reported.
The council is now expected to examine whether the bill, passed in both houses of the French Parliament, violates the French constitution and its founding base of freedom of expression.
At least 60 signatures from either houses of parliament, the Senate or the National Assembly, are needed to appeal a bill at the Constitutional Council.
Some 77 senators from across the political divide made the appeal to the court. Another 65 lawmakers in the lower house agreed to the appeal.
The 11-member Constitutional Council has 30 days to decide whether the legislation is unconstitutional. But it may be forced to rule in eight days if the government requests an emergency decision.
The bill, which received final parliamentary approval on Jan. 23, needs to be approved by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who backs it, in order to go into effect. But the Constitutional Council may now annul it on grounds of violating the French constitution before it gets to Sarkozy.
The Constitutional Council, whose 11 members include former presidents and others appointed by the president, and presidents of the Senate and the National Assembly, rule on conformity of legislation after they have been voted by Parliament and before they are signed into law by the president. Former French presidents Valerie Giscard d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac are currently members of the council, headed by Jean-Louis Debre.
If the bill goes into effect, those who deny that the killings of Armenians during World War I in eastern Anatolia amounted to "genocide" will face punishment. It sets a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros for those who deny or "outrageously minimize" the killings -- putting such action on par with denial of the Holocaust.
Turkey has protested the bill, saying it is an attack on freedom of expression. It has also warned it would impose unspecified sanctions if the measure eventually goes into effect. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked the French parliament for passing what he said was "discriminatory and racist" legislation.
On Tuesday, Erdogan praised the French parliamentarians for seeking to reject the bill. "This is what befits France. The senators did what befits France," he told reporters.
Observers say French senators and lawmakers were under intense pressure from leaders of their parties in order to not appeal the legislation, in order not to upset ethnic Armenian voters ahead of upcoming presidential elections. Both incumbent President Sarkozy and opposition Socialist Party's contender Francois Hollande are candidates in the upcoming polls.
"Both opposition and government party leaders imposed pressure on senators and National Assembly members so that this bill is signed into law quickly," Turkish Ambassador to France Tahsin Burcuoglu said in televised comments after the French parliamentarians appealed the bill. "It is never easy for politicians to do it. They have shown courage and I thank them for this," Burcuoglu said.
President Abdullah Gul also lauded the move, saying he knew "the French would not allow such a shadow to be cast over their country."
"The Constitutional Court will deliver the right decision," Gul told reporters during a visit to Dubai. "Freedoms are the most important source of strength for a country. And the freedom of expression is what lies at the heart of freedoms. This bill is detrimental to freedom of expression."
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also praised the French parliamentarians, saying they "stood up for their own values."
"What needs to be done now is to wait patiently for the outcome of the process at the Constitutional Council. I hope the Turkish-French friendship will win in the end," he said.