Saturday, 10 March 2007

Swiss Court Finds Turkish Politician Guilty

LAUSANNE (Swissinfo)--

A Turkish politician was found guilty on Friday by a Swiss criminal court of denying that mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 amounted to genocide, the first such conviction under Swiss law.

The court in Lausanne agreed handed Dogu Perincek a suspended fine of SFr9,000 ($7,336) as well as a one-off financial penalty of SFr3,000.

The court also ruled that Perincek would have to pay SFr1,000 to the Swiss-Armenian Association as a symbolic gesture.

The politician, whose left-wing Turkish Workers'Party has no seats in the Turkish parliament, was brought to court after calling the genocide "an international lie" during a public speech in Lausanne in July 2005.

Under the Swiss penal code any act of denying, belittling or justifying genocide is a violation of the country's anti-racism legislation.

And Lausanne is the capital of canton Vaud, one of two Swiss cantons along with Geneva where the parliaments have voted in recent years to recognize the Armenian massacre as genocide.

Judge Pierre-Henri Winzap accused Perincek of being "a racist" and "an arrogant provocateur" who was familiar with Swiss law on historical revisionism.

According to Winzap, the politician's action "appears to have racist and nationalist motives". The Armenian genocide is "an established historical fact according to the Swiss public," he added.

Perincek's lawyers have called into question the authority of the district court to hear such a case. The Turkish politician said he would appeal against the verdict, which he called "racist and imperialist".

He admitted in court earlier in the week that there had been massacres but said there could be no talk of genocide. "I have not denied genocide because there was no genocide," he argued.


Sarkis Shahinian, co-president of the Swiss-Armenian Association, said there was "great relief" among the community. Shahinian said it was deplorable that the Turkish state had let itself get involved with ultra-nationalists like Perincek.

"It is a big problem. It is necessary that Turkey recognizes the genocide."

Ferai Tinc, a foreign affairs columnist with Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper, told swissinfo the case had been widely followed in the country because it was the first time a Turkish citizen had been tried abroad for expressing their opinion.

"We see it as a trial of freedom of thought, and freedom of opinion," Tinc said.

"Whether we agree or not with Perincek, we find these type of [penal] articles against freedom of opinion dangerous because we are struggling in our country to achieve freedom of thought."

Tinc added that the decision to make Perincek stand trial would "create a problem of confidence" between Switzerland and Turkey.


Shaky ties between Bern and Ankara reached a peak in 2005 after Turkey criticized the Swiss authorities'decision to investigate Perincek. Ankara followed it up by canceling an official trip to Turkey by the then Swiss economics minister, Joseph Deiss.

The next event to raise eyebrows was a visit to Turkey by Swiss Justice Minister Christopher Blocher last October when he announced that Switzerland's anti-racism legislation was incompatible with freedom of expression.

The comments were welcomed by Ankara but caused a storm of protest in Switzerland.

Blocher came in for renewed criticism by the media and some politicians last weekend when he received his Turkish counterpart Cemil Cicek in Bern. According to the justice ministry, bilateral issues -- and not the trial -- were discussed.

On Friday Blocher said he did not want to comment on the trial directly, but did not expect the verdict to lead to a serious deterioration in Swiss-Turkish relations.

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