France had already officially recognised the killings as a genocide, but the new law sought to go further by punishing anyone who denies this with up to a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros. -AP Photo

PARIS: France's top judicial body ruled Tuesday that a law backed by President Nicolas Sarkozy to punish denial of the Armenian genocide was unconstitutional as it infringed on freedom of expression.

“The Council deems the law contrary to the constitution,” the Constitutional Council said of the legislation that plunged France's relations with Turkey into crisis.

“The council rules that by punishing anyone contesting the existence of...crimes that lawmakers themselves recognised or qualified as such, lawmakers committed an unconstitutional attack on freedom of expression,” it said.

France had already officially recognised the killings as a genocide, but the new law sought to go further by punishing anyone who denies this with up to a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($57,000).

The Council said that it was concerned “not to enter into the realm of responsibility that belongs to historians”.

While the Council's ruling is final, Sarkozy, who is facing a tough reelection battle in less than two months, vowed on February 1 that he would submit a new draft of the law if the Constitutional Council rejected it.

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