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Freedom of speech Turkish politician pushes Swiss free speech limits

Perinçek reiterated at the Zurich press conference his belief that “no court has ever considered the events of 1915 in Armenia to be considered genocide."

(Keystone)

With the backing of Europe’s top human rights court, a Turkish politician keeps testing Switzerland’s tolerance for freedom of speech.

Doğu Perinçek, chairman of the Turkish Patriotic Party, first made headlines when he said publicly in Switzerland on three different occasions in 2005 that the mass killings of up to 1.8 million Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces a century ago did not constitute genocide.

Swiss courts in 2007 convicted him of violating Swiss anti-racism law, which forbids denying, belittling or justifying genocide. Perinçek appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, France.

The European court acquitted Perinçek of the racism charges in September 2015 and concluded a month later that Switzerland violated his right to freedom of speech. Since winning his nearly decade-long legal battle, Perinçek has not let up pushing the Swiss on these issues.

During a press conference on Tuesday at the Zurich-based Turkish consulate, he blasted his conspiracy theories about recent terror attacks in Europe and said he supported a Swiss lawmaker’s initiative that would provide more legal cover for expressing scepticism about genocide.

Perinçek claimed the United States “is behind” the recent terror attacks in Paris, Brussels, Berlin and Turkey because he said it wants to divide Turkey and weaken Europe, Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported.

Perinçek also expressed support for a new proposal filed by Swiss parliamentarian Yves Nidegger, which requests a modification to the Swiss penal code that would strike out the mention of genocide, or at least require that it be “verified by a competent court.”

Legal and political considerations

The Swiss penal code calls for imprisonment or a fine if someone is found guilty of trying to deny, grossly minimise or justify genocide or other crimes against humanity.

Israel and more than a dozen European nations, including Switzerland, have laws that criminalise denial of the Holocaust. Still others have laws that deal more broadly with the deliberate killing of a large group of people along national or ethnic lines, known as genocide. The legal definition of genocide stems from a 1948 international convention.

Turkey has strongly opposed any genocide reference, and Western nations have been cautious using the term for fear of upsetting Turkey as a NATO ally in a part of the world experiencing huge upheaval.

swissinfo.ch and agencies/cl

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