Swiss prosecutor probes Bağış over genocide remarks, sparks diplomatic row

Swiss prosecutor probes Bağış over genocide remarks, sparks diplomatic row

Turkish EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış. (Photo: AA)

February 06, 2012, Monday/ 15:12:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

A Zurich prosecutor on Monday launched an investigation into remarks by Egemen Bağış, Turkey's EU affairs minister and chief EU negotiator, after he said in Zurich that there was no Armenian genocide and that Swiss authorities could arrest him if they wanted to.

Turkey swiftly responded to the news of investigation, with the Swiss ambassador in Ankara being summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Monday afternoon. Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who met Swiss Ambassador Raimund Kunz, demanded an official explanation and informed Kunz that the investigation was “unacceptable,” sources said.

News about the prosecution's move was published in the Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The Zurich Chief Prosecutor's Office launched the investigation into Bağış's remarks -- which he made last month in Zurich on his way back from the World Economic Forum at Davos -- based on a complaint filed by members of Switzerland's Armenian community.

Zürich State Prosecutor Christine Braunschweig was quoted by the daily as having said: “Last week we received a petition about this issue, informing us that Mr. Bağış violated the anti-racism Article 261 of the Swiss Penal Code. Our prosecutor's office has taken this allegation seriously and launched an investigation. We will investigate whether Egemen Bağış uttered words denying the Armenian genocide as asserted in the petition. We will also see if he has diplomatic immunity. At the end of this, we will press charges against him if there indeed is a violation and if he cannot benefit from diplomatic immunity.”

Cihangir Şahin, Bağış's press secretary, said the minister will not comment on the issue until the prosecutor's preliminary investigation is completed.

The Zurich prosecutor was “out of line” according to at least one deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The AK Party's Ömer Çelik said, “The Zürich prosecutor was out of line launching an inquiry into a minister of the Republic of Turkey who voiced an opinion while exercising freedom of speech.”

Last week, in response to a question from a French journalist on what he thought of a bill criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide adopted by the French Senate in January, Bağış said: “Our prime minister has said what needs to be said about this. This resolution is null and void for us. We believe that there are more people with common sense than those without it in France. Switzerland is another country where it is a crime to deny the so-called genocide. Here I am in Switzerland today, and I'm saying the 1915 incidents did not amount to genocide. Let them come arrest me.”

In 2008, Workers' Party (İP) Chairman Doğu Perinçek, who was convicted by a Swiss court for rejecting Armenian claims of genocide at a conference he attended in Switzerland, appealed the ruling at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), arguing his conviction was a violation of the free speech articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). He also complained of violations of his right to a fair trial, after his lawyer was denied a visa to Switzerland.

The European court is currently waiting on the Swiss government to submit its defense. It is expected to deliver a verdict this year. The Republic of Turkey is listed as a co-plaintiff in the case. 

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