Swiss case in Perinçek appeal rests on protecting public peace

Turkish protesters gathered outside the European Court of Human Rights to rally against the definition of Armenian killings as genocide Keystone
This content was published on January 28, 2015 - 15:30 and agencies

Switzerland has defended the grounds for its anti-racism laws in the appeal of the case regarding Doğu Perinçek, a Turkish politician convicted for denying the 1915 Armenian massacre was genocide.

During the a hearing on Wednesday at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Swiss delegation maintained that the argument used to convict Perinçek under anti-racism laws was intended to protect the public peace and was not a reflection on specific definitions of historic events.

For his part, the 72-year-old defendant and president of the Turkish Workers’ Party, argued before the Strasbourg-based court that his right to free speech was violated when Swiss tribunals convicted him in 2007.

The panel of judges is set to deliberate the case behind closed doors over the next few weeks. A ruling is expected “at a later stage,” according to a court press release.

Court history

In his 2005 speech, Perinçek called the genocide an “international lie”. The Armenians, however, say Ottoman Turks slaughtered up to 1.8 million Armenians in a planned genocide between 1915 and 1918. Turkey denies the mass killings were genocide, saying the death toll is inflated.

Switzerland has anti-racism laws in place that legislate against any denying, belittling or justifying of genocide.

In 2007, the Federal Court decided that the facts of the Armenian genocide were widely accepted as common knowledge and that Perinçek’s denial of these facts was driven by racist motives. He was subsequently fined.

However, Perinçek appealed the decision to the ECHR, which in an initial verdict in December 2013 ruled in favour of the Turkish defendant.

In turn, Switzerland also filed an appeal last year.

Perinçek has argued in the appeal that Article 261bis, paragraph 4, of the Swiss Criminal Code – anti-racism legislation which forbids the public denial, belittlement or justification of genocide – “is not foreseeable in its effect” and breaches the freedom of expression which is “necessary in a democratic society”.

See the document below for the Swiss Criminal Code’s specific wording on the subject.

Although the ECHR left open the question of defining the Armenian killings as genocide and Switzerland has said it does not want to enter into such a debate in Strasbourg, that question is set to be debated by Turkish and Armenian delegations before the court. It has also drawn scores of protesters from both sides who gathered outside the court with flags and signs.

Amal Clooney, wife of film star George Clooney, is on the legal team arguing that the Armenian killings should be called genocide.

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