The Swiss justice minister, Christoph Blocher, is facing criminal charges after claiming in a speech that two Albanians seeking asylum were lawbreakers.This content was published on May 29, 2006 - 16:10
The lawyer representing one of the men confirmed on Monday that his client had filed a complaint against the minister for slander, defamatory remarks, offensive language and violation of a person's rights.
The charges were filed following a speech made by Blocher to the Zurich section of his rightwing People's Party in January.
The minister had complained at the time that he could not understand why two men accused by the Albanian government of a series of crimes including two murders and hold-ups had been given refugee status.
According to Blocher, the two "criminals" could not be extradited to their homeland because the asylum appeals commission had already decided they could stay in Switzerland.
The minister failed to point out that the commission had concluded that the charges against the two men were politically motivated. The Swiss federal court later agreed, stating that the evidence against the two accused supplied by the Albanian authorities was most likely fabricated.
After the initial uproar caused by his remarks, Blocher denied making them a number of times – including in parliament. But he later admitted he had made an error.
"I regret this slip of the tongue," he said at the time. "I should have said 'suspected criminals' instead of 'criminals'."
But Blocher's backtracking failed to convince the plaintiff and his lawyer.
The lawyer, Heinz Lüscher, told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper that Blocher's regrets had only managed to reinforce the impression his client was a criminal who had escaped extradition.
He added that it was not particularly difficult to identify the two men, even though the justice minister had not named names.
"They are the only Albanians to have been granted asylum in the past few years," he said. "Anyone who sees their residence permit will know that they are one of the two men Blocher described as murderers. How can they be expected to find a job?"
According to Lüscher, the justice minister has since refused to iron things out, leading to the formal complaint.
Whether Blocher ends up in court remains to be seen. His remarks benefit from immunity as they were made in his capacity as justice minister.
Only parliament can decide to lift immunity if it feels there is a case to answer.
The Senate's control committee is also investigating the issue after Lüscher submitted an application to it in its capacity as a watchdog body.
It is considering whether there was a breach of the presumption of innocence, as well as whether Blocher's criticism of the asylum appeals commission and the Swiss federal court violated the principle of separation of power and the independence of the judicial system.
swissinfo with agencies
The Swiss Asylum Appeal Commission is a specialised court that makes final decisions on appeals against rejections of asylum requests and expulsion decisions ordered by the Federal Office for Migration.
No further appeal to the Federal Court is possible.
The commission is independent in its decisions and subject only to the law.
Administratively, it is under the supervision of the cabinet and parliament.
The commission will be replaced by the new Federal Administrative Court located in St Gallen in a few years time.
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