During Sunday's Golden Globe Awards, there was much mirth about how George Clooney, recipient there of a lifetime achievement award, had actually married up when wedding the human rights lawyer Amal Ramzi. After paying proper tribute to his new bride, Clooney, wearing a "Je suis Charlie" button, concluded his acceptance speech with this rousing bit on free expression:
Today is an extraordinary day. Millions marched not only in Paris but all around the world, and there were Christians and Jews and Muslims, leaders of countries all over the world, they didn't march in protest, they marched in support of the idea that we will not walk in fear. Je suis Charlie.
So! What's Amal Clooney working on these days? Would you believe representing Armenia in an attempt to uphold the Swiss prosecution of a visiting Turkish politician for the crime of denying that Turkey committed genocide against Armenians a century ago?
Dogu Perincek was found guilty by a Swiss court in 2008 of denying, during a visit to Switzerland, that the genocide ever took place.
Mr Perincek, from the Left-wing Turkish Workers' Party, called the genocide "an international lie" and was fined by the court in Switzerland.
He appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which ruled in Dec 2013 that Switzerland had violated his right to free expression.
That appeal is now being challenged by Armenia, with the case to be heard by the Strasbourg court's 17-member Grand Chamber. The first hearing has been scheduled for Jan 28.
The Armenians argue that denying the genocide should be a crime, just as negating the Holocaust of six million Jews is a punishable offence in many countries.
Expressing your disbelief of a historical event should not be a crime in any country, under any circumstance. (And lest my Armenian friends accuse me of going soft on Johnny Turkey, click here.) Assisting such a prosecution makes a mockery of the phrase "human rights lawyer," as free speech is a bedrock human right. The sad fact is, as Jacob Sullum has explained here recently (and will again in a great column tomorrow morning), many of the countries singing Je suis Charlie loudest of all, including France itself, have terribly illiberal laws governing what people can't say.
Just this Monday the Paris prosecutor's office opened up an investigation into the provocative French political comedian Dieudonné, most famous for popularizing a hand-arm gesture designed to look like the (illegal) Nazi salute, because Dieudonné wrote on his Facebook page "As far as I am concerned, I feel I am Charlie Coulibaly"—mashing together the names Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket paper's assassin, Amedy Coulibaly. Dieudonné may be a jackass and an anti-Semite (many French people I know certainly seem to think so), but those traits should not be criminal in a free society.
Marching and speaking and sharing and even hash-tagging can be beautiful acts of solidarity in certain moments. But the real work of building free-speech law and culture is very hard. France and Europe have a long way to go; Lord knows we do, too.