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Free speech Swiss want review of Armenian genocide ruling

Armenians gather in April 2013 at the monument to the victims of mass killings by Ottoman Turks, in Yerevan, Armenia

(Keystone)

Switzerland has asked the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to reconsider a ruling that the Swiss Federal Court violated the right of Turkish nationalist Doğu Perinçek to free speech when it fined him for denying the 1915 Armenian genocide.

The Federal Office of Justice said on Tuesday that it had decided to refer the verdict to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber for review in order to clarify the scope available to the Swiss authorities in applying Swiss criminal law to combat racism.

The European Convention on Human Rights provides for referral to the Grand Chamber in cases where it is not clear how to interpret or apply the Convention.

The Armenians say Ottoman Turks slaughtered up to 1.8 million Armenians in a planned genocide between 1915 and 1918. Turkey acknowledges that many Armenians died, but denies that this was an attempt to exterminate the Armenian people. It also says the death toll is inflated and that many others died in inter-ethnic violence at the time.

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

Vexed question

In 2007, Perinçek, who was the head of the left-wing Turkish Workers' Party, was found guilty in a lower court of racial discrimination after he called the genocide "an international lie" during a public speech in the city of Lausanne in a 2005.

He took his appeal against the verdict up to the Swiss Federal Court, which took the view that the facts of the 1915 Armenian genocide were common knowledge and that, therefore, Perinçek’s denial of those facts was driven by racist and nationalist motives.

Perinçek then brought his case to the ECHR, which decided that Switzerland had acted in violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights in its conviction. That article guarantees the right to free speech.

The ECHR also said it doubted there was as wide a consensus on the Armenian genocide as the Federal Court had indicated in its ruling, pointing out that only 20 of the world's 190 countries had recognised the genocide.

The Armenian question has long affected relations between Switzerland and Turkey, including the postponing of official visits.

The House of Representatives recognised the Armenian massacre as genocide in 2003, but neither the Senate nor the cabinet has officially done so.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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