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Swiss justice minister's comments during visit to Turkey cause outcry at home

Swiss justice minister's comments during visit to Turkey cause outcry at home

The Swiss justice minister's comments during an official trip to Turkey have caused an outcry at home after he appeared to criticize the Alpine country's anti-racism laws.
According to Turkey's state-owned Anatolia news agency, Christoph Blocher told his counterpart, Cemil Cicek, on Wednesday that a law under which a Turkish historian is being prosecuted in Switzerland for saying "the Armenian genocide did not take place" was "a headache."
Blocher then went on to say that he had invited Cicek to visit Switzerland. When Cicek asked whether he would get into trouble if he repeated the historian's comments, Blocher replied: "Nothing will happen. But if it does, I'll go to prison with him."
A billionaire industrialist, Blocher has regularly rocked the boat of unity in the coalition government with his outspoken positions since he joined the seven-member Cabinet in 2003 after years on the outside. As a leader of the nationalist Swiss People's Party, he has taken strong positions against asylum seekers and Switzerland's membership in the U.N. and other international bodies.
President Moritz Leuenberger, a Social Democrat, expressed surprised at Blocher's remarks Thursday, while Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin, a center-right Radical Democrat, said it was wrong for a justice minister to complain about his own country's laws while on a foreign visit.
Blocher, who was in Ankara to mark the 80th anniversary of Turkey adopting Swiss laws as a basis for its own penal code, said he would hold a news conference on his arrival at Zurich airport Friday morning.
Anatolia reported that Blocher had expressed support for a Turkish proposal to draw up a commission made up of historians to research the Armenian issue.
"In countries like Switzerland ... freedom of expression is necessary for democracy to exist. No matter how much we say that freedom of expression is important, the legislation which was adopted in 1994, unfortunately, is an obstacle to this," Anatolia quoted the minister as saying.
"This law was in fact one that was passed with the punishment of those who deny the World War II genocide against Jews in mind. No one thought at the time that it would be used against a professor from Turkey for remarks he made during a speech to Turks in Switzerland."
"But this law does exist and it is a headache for us."
"My ministry will examine what can be done independently of the case against Halacoglu and Perincek."
Turkish historian Yusuf Halacoglu is being investigated by Swiss prosecutors for comments he made during a speech in Winterthur, near Zurich, in 2004. Prosecutors said this week that they have not been able to interview Halacoglu in person. Another case, brought against the Turkish left-wing politician Dogu Perincek, will be decided in March 2007.
Perincek had made similar comments about Armenians during a speaking tour of Switzerland in 2005.
Under Switzerland's 1994 anti-racism law, which was originally intended to prevent Holocaust denial, it is to illegal to "deny, minimize or justify genocide or other crimes against humanity." At the time, Blocher voted for the legislation.
Armenians say that as many as 1.5 million of their ancestors were killed in 1915-1923 in an organized campaign and have pushed for recognition around the world of the killings as genocide. Turkey rejects the claim that a mass evacuation and related deaths of Armenians was genocide and says the death toll is inflated.


Updated : 2021-08-05 01:55 GMT+08:00