PARIS (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday Switzerland had violated a Turkish politician's right to freedom of speech by convicting him for denying that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 amounted to genocide.
Dogu Perincek, head of the small nationalist Patriotic Party, was convicted in a Swiss court after speaking at several public events in Switzerland in 2005 and his appeals were rejected. He filed a case at the European court in June 2008.
The events of 1915 are a highly sensitive issue both in Turkey and among Armenians in Armenia and in diaspora. Muslim Turkey accepts that Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman forces during World War One, but denies there was any systematic attack on civilians amounting to genocide.
Perincek tweeted his reaction, presenting the case as part of a national struggle reaching back into the early years of the 20th century when the modern Turkish state emerged.
"This is not a historical debate or legal dispute. This is a defence of the country. A fight for independence!" he said.
The Strasbourg-based court said in a statement it had ruled that it was not necessary to criminally convict Perincek to protect the rights of the Armenian community.
"The Swiss courts appeared to have censured Mr Perincek simply for voicing an opinion that diverged from the established ones in Switzerland, and the interference with his right to freedom of expression had taken the serious form of a criminal conviction," the court said.
Perincek had been ordered to pay a number of fines, suspended for two years, and 1,000 Swiss francs in compensation to the Switzerland-Armenia Association for non-pecuniary damage.
The court said it did not fall into the scope of the case to determine whether the massacres and mass deportations of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 constituted genocide as defined by international law.
Reporting by Leigh Thomas; additional reporting by Can Barut in Ankara; editing by Ralph Boulton