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Senate watchdog slams justice minister

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher gets knuckles rapped for "criminal" comment

(Keystone)

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher has received a firm dressing-down from a parliamentary committee for branding two Albanian asylum seekers as "criminals".

A report published on Tuesday sharply criticises Blocher for lying to the Senate, violating the two mens' presumption of innocence and undermining the separation of state powers.

In a speech in January Blocher, from the rightwing Swiss People's Party, described two Albanian asylum seekers as "criminals having committed two murders".

But the two men in question had been cleared of criminal charges by the Swiss federal court and granted asylum in December 2005. Under increasing pressure from parliament the justice minister apologised.

The parliamentary control committee committee reminded Blocher that it is the justice minister's responsibility to defend the basic principles that govern the rule of law and to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

In particular the report criticised the justice minister for lying to the Senate when he maintained in March that he had "never described the Albanians as criminals, but as accused".

The parliamentarians urged the justice minister to show greater restraint in his criticisms of legal decisions concerning members of the public and to refrain from any comments that might be considered biased.

Innocent

The report's authors also denounce Blocher's criticism of the Swiss Asylum Appeal Commission (SAAC) regarding the case of the two asylum seekers.

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 the commission, the criminal trial brought against the two men in Albania had been politically motivated.

It said that it was wrong to accuse the SAAC of granting asylum to "criminals" and that all authorities should now consider the two Albanians as innocent asylum seekers.

"Anyone who listened to Christoph Blocher's speech [in Zurich] would know that the head of the justice ministry considered them to be guilty," the report added.

While the report recognises that Blocher has apologised for his comments and "slip of the tongue", its authors remain unconvinced.

In the eyes of the parliamentarians the justice minister "acted out of political reasons to illustrate what he believes is a real problem but using an example that was depicted wrongly".

The minister now has until the end of October to comment on the committee's report.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Christoph Blocher is well known for his outspokenness, first as a member of parliament and since 2004 as a cabinet minister.

He has criticised cabinet decisions even though a fundamental tenet of the cabinet is to reach consensus and for each member to represent policies of the majority, even if they are not necessarily in line with his or her own views.

Blocher's defence of his comments concerning two Albanian refugees in front of the Senate was strongly criticised in the Swiss press.

end of infobox

Key facts

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher called two Albanian asylum seekers "criminals" during a speech in January in Zurich.
The two men were cleared of criminal charges by the Swiss federal court in December 2005 and granted asylum.
Under pressure in parliament, Blocher apologised for his comments on March 29.

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