The frontpage headline of Swiss tabloid Blick didn’t mince its words on Monday: “Erdoğan'ın diktatörlüğüne HAYIR oyu kullanın!”. This, and an accompanying editorial, was translated into German for anyone who is not one of the 125,000 or so people in Switzerland with Turkish roots: “Vote NO to Erdoğan’s dictatorship!”
All Swiss newspapers led with the ongoing diplomatic stand-off in various European countries concerning Turkish politicians who are trying to drum up support abroad for a referendum on constitutional changes on April 16.
Germany and the Netherlands have borne the bruntexternal link of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan’s anger, but Switzerland has also got caught up in the dispute.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu was set to speak in Zurich on Sunday but the visit was “postponed”, said organiser Murat Sahin from the Union of European Turkish Democrats. The Zurich authorities had previously called on the government to ban Cavuşoğlu, but the government said his visit posed “no heightened threat to domestic security”, adding there were no grounds to limit freedom of speech.
Nevertheless, “Switzerland must also fear the long arm of Erdoğan,” warned the Tages-Anzeiger, saying spying by the Turkish government in Switzerland was greater than previously thought. It cited reports in the NZZ am Sonntag which said Swiss-Turkish dual nationals had been banned from travelling between the two countries and had been held at Istanbul airport.
The Turkish foreign ministry has strongly critcised the Blick report, according to the German DPA news agency.
It allegedly called on the Swiss tabloid to respect the rules of "unbiased journalism" and and take "steps to make good for the irreverence towards the President".
The Swiss foreign ministry declined to comment.
Swiss universities were also targeted, according to the paper. A PhD student at the University of Zurich, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “It’s normal that people working for the Turkish government appear at meetings and conferences to photograph or record participants.”
He said he himself had taken part in a seminar in January on the Armenian genocide and two men turned up and filmed those present with their mobile phones.
But it was Blick that really stirred things up. “If you want to introduce dictatorial conditions in your homeland, feel free. But you should then live under these conditions,” it began its editorialexternal link. “For us Swiss, it’s unacceptable for someone here to benefit from freedom and rule of law but at the same time want to abolish these at home.”
Asked by Swiss public radio, SRF, whether this meant whoever voted for Erdoğan’s reforms – which would give the presidency sweeping new powers – should leave Switzerland, the editor-in-chief of the Blick Group said yes.
Freedom of expression
While Blick appeared to be in favour of free speech – apart from when it disagreed with what was being said – Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter defended the decision not to forbid Cavuşoğlu from entering Switzerland. He told Swiss public radio, RTS, at the weekend that the basic right to freedom of expression should not be restricted and Switzerland has taken a clear position about this since Turkey’s failed coup last July.
Another of Switzerland’s top diplomats, State Secretary Pascale Baeriswyl, told Swiss public television, SRF, that “people should express their opinions freely”.
While Switzerland debated free speech, it appeared to have dodged further ensnarement in Turkey’s politicking around Europe following the postponement of Cavuşoğlu’s visit.
An appearance by the Turkish foreign minister would have been the highlight of a weeks-long campaign involving visits by leading Turkish politicians in Switzerland, said Swiss Sunday newspaper SonntagsZeitung. Many of these visits were organised by the Union of European Turkish Democrats.
Already, there have been such visits in places like Basel, Geneva, Zug and Zurich to promote the referendum. There were rallies at a restaurant in Rüti and an industrial area of Baar, then another event with the Turkish ambassador to Switzerland in Gunsberg, the newspaper reported.