Swiss Justice Ministry rejects Turkey’s demand over anti-Erdoğan insult claims

Switzerland has rejected a Turkish request for legal assistance in prosecuting a suspect accused of insulting Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, ruling that the comments in question were protected by Swiss free speech provisions.

Switzerland helps foreign prosecutors only if the crime they are investigating is a criminal offence in Switzerland as well, and that was not the case here, a spokesman for the Federal Office of Justice said on March 17. “If similar criticism of a member of the government were expressed in Switzerland within the framework of a political discussion, this would be tolerated as a free expression of opinion,” he said.

He did not identify the suspect in the case, which arose in part from postings on social media. Three similar requests from Turkey are still pending and would be judged individually on their merits, he added.

Turkey has recently asked for legal action from Switzerland against some persons of Turkish origin living in the country. After an evaluation of Turkey’s demand, the Federal Office of Justice ruled that there is no need to prosecute the people in question, and announced their rejection of Turkey’s demand for the prosecution of the people whose names were not disclosed for security reasons.

“The claims interpreted by Turkey as a crime are included in the scope of freedom of expression in Switzerland. The alleged crime needs to be included in the scope of crime in Switzerland in order for Turkey’s demand to be accepted by our side,” said a statement by the Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice.

Ties have become increasingly tense between Turkey and many European countries over Turkish campaigning for a constitution referendum next month.  The Swiss government said last week, however, there was no reason to ban the Turkish foreign minister from addressing a rally in Zurich despite local authorities’ opposition. The speech was eventually canceled for lack of a venue.

Meanwhile, after the Swiss cantons of Zurich and Aurgau, the Canton of Basel has also cancelled an event organized for political campaign in the framework of April 16 referendum. The event organized by the pro-AKP Federation of Turkish Islamic Cultural Associations in Basel was expected to be realized on Saturday with the participation of two nationalist Turkish singers.

Swiss government statistics show around 68,000 Turkish citizens live in Switzerland, a nation of 8.3 million whose population is a quarter foreign.

March 17, 2017

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