Genocide Denial Trial of Turkish Politician Underway in Switzerland

GENEVA, March 6 (Reuters/Swissinfo)–A Turkish politician on Tuesday went on trial in Switzerland for denying that the mass killings of Armenia’s by Ottoman Turks in 1915 amounted to genocide. Dogu Perincek, head of the leftist-nationalist Turkish Workers’ Party, called the Armenian genocide "an international lie" during a speech in the Swiss city of Lausanne in July 2005. The state prosecutor has called for six months prison for violating a 1995 Swiss law which bans denying, belittling or justifying any genocide. The maximum penalty is three years. Perincek told the Lausanne criminal court that there had been no genocide against Armenia’s, but there had been "reciprocal massacres", according to Swiss Radio. "I defend my right to freedom of expression. There was no genocide, therefore this law cannot apply to my remarks," it quoted the 65-year-old as saying in lengthy replies in German. The case has further soured relations between neutral Switzerland and Turkey. Ankara criticized the decision to prosecute the case and later cancelled an official visit by then Economy Minister Joseph Deiss in 2005. If found guilty, Perincek would become the first person to be convicted under the law. Twelve Turks were acquitted of similar charges in 2001. Some 200 Turkish sympathizers, including former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, held a silent protest in a Lausanne square to mark the opening of the trial, according to the Swiss news agency ATS. The law itself has been the subject of debate since Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher announced during a visit to Turkey last October that the legislation was incompatible with freedom of expression. The commen’s were welcomed by Ankara but caused a storm of protest in Switzerland. A meeting between Blocher and his Turkish counterpart Cemil Cicek in Bern over the weekend further raised eyebrows. The media and some politicians criticized Blocher over the timing of the meeting. According to the justice ministry bilateral issues–and not the trial were discussed. Legal experts have also raised questions about the law–albeit in a different context. "The lawmakers wanted to assimilate the negation of a historical reality to a racist proclamation. This is controversial, because it is about two different things," said Robert Roth, dean of the faculty of law at Geneva University. So far most historians, the Council of Europe, the French parliament and the Swiss House of Representatives–plus two cantonal parliamen’s in Switzerland–have all recognized the events as genocide. The Swiss government does not officially speak of genocide. Francesco Bertossa, who was part of the defense team in another Turkish genocide denial trial in 2001 in Bern, believes the definition question should not influence the verdict. "The anti-racism law does not only punish genocide denial but also any crime against humanity," he said. For its part, the Swiss-Armenian Association, the private party associated with the public prosecutor in the trial, welcomes the case. "We will finally know if denigrating our people and tarnishing our memory is a crime in Switzerland," said co-president Sarkis Shahinian. Prosecutor-general Eric Cottier has been quoted as saying that unless shown to be otherwise, the Armenian genocide was "sufficiently recognized to be defined as such". But Perinek remains defiant. Arriving in Switzerland at the weekend he reiterated his call for the law to be abolished and said he could prove that genocide did not take place. A verdict in the trial is expected on Friday.


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