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Swiss demonstration Turkey acts in wake of anti-Erdogan banner

"For democracy in Turkey": a demonstration in Bern on Saturday


Istanbul’s public prosecutor has said it will take legal action in the wake of a demonstration in Bern against Turkey’s president, Turkish news media reported on Monday.

Turkish authorities say they also are investigating the demonstration. Swiss authorities have opened two inquiries of their own into the event and a controversial poster displayed there.

On Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered peacefully in front of Bern’s parliament square to call for democracy in Turkey and changes to the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following a coup attempt in July 2016.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said prosecutors in Istanbul have launched an investigation and instructed police to identify the demonstrators who unfurled the banner, which contained the words “Kill Erdogan with his own weapons!” The news agency said those responsible could face charges including membership in a terror organization, insulting the president and making propaganda for a terrorist organisation.

Turkish authorities also have called on Switzerland to take criminal action after seeing a poster at the rally depicting Erdogan with a gun to his head and symbols of the Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK, which the European Union and the United States – but not Switzerland – have formerly labelled a terrorist organisation.

Regional prosecutors for the Bern-Mittelland region opened a probe over alleged “public provocation of crimes or violence”, after police collected evidence when the banner was raised but did not intervene to have it pulled down. The city of Bern also is looking into whether the protesters had proper authorisation to demonstrate.

Legal framework

It was unclear where Istanbul might file a complaint, under what legal framework and who exactly its target might be. Raphael Frei, a spokesman for the Swiss Federal Office of Justice, told that Turkey could ask Switzerland for legal assistance with its investigation based on the European Convention on Mutual Assistance, a treaty which both countries have ratified. He said he was not aware of whether the Istanbul public prosecutor had filed such a request with Swiss authorities.

Swiss law stipulates that no foreign country may investigate cases on its soil without authorisation and that Switzerland does not provide legal assistance for cases being pursued for purely political reasons.

Switzerland also has a rarely-used law against defaming a foreign heads of state – but the Swiss have so far resisted Istanbul’s pressure to use it to stop insults to Turkey’s president.

‘Message of peace and freedom’

Switzerland’s Social Democrat and Green political parties organised Saturday's demonstration with help from members of Kurdish associations. About 30 other groups including the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions and Terre des Hommes Switzerland supported the rally.

Organisers said it was meant to highlight the loss of democracy and freedom under Erdogan’s leadership, and to show solidarity with those accused and imprisoned.

Some of the local organisers denounced the banner’s message. Peter Hug of the Social Democrats told Bern’s Bund newspaper that “it’s completely unreasonable and we are clearly distancing ourselves from it”. He also said he was frustrated by fringe groups that “co-opted our message of peace and freedom”.

Erdogan and his supporters have been whipping up emotions in European countries ahead of his country’s April 16 referendum, hoping to build support among sizeable Turkish populations abroad, including those in Switzerland.

The Turkish president has accused Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, of “committing Nazi practices” after some local authorities blocked Turkish ministers from making campaign appearances in Germany. He also has levelled similar accusations at the Netherlands.

On its website, a left-wing group called the “Bern revolutionary youth group” took responsibility for the banner that authorities are investigating. None of the group members have been identified, however.

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