The Zurich public prosecutor’s office has launched an initial investigation into Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s European Union affairs minister, over alleged racist remarks.
The Swiss ambassador to Turkey discussed the matter with the foreign ministry in Ankara on Monday, as the Swiss foreign ministry told swissinfo.ch. Turkish officials had summoned him to complain about the investigation.
In late January, Bagis reportedly told journalists that there had been no Armenian genocide and that the Swiss authorities could come and arrest him if they wanted to. He was in Zurich for a concert at the time, having just attended the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Such comments are in violation of Switzerland’s anti-racism laws. The public prosecutor of canton Zurich is now looking into the matter to determine whether Bagis has indeed committed a criminal offence.
As Zurich authorities told the Swiss News Agency on Monday, it is still unclear exactly what Bagis said and whether he qualifies for diplomatic immunity.
The story was first published on Sunday in the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper. It has also made headlines in Turkey.
Turkey rejects historical findings that up 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were killed under the Ottoman empire nearly 100 years ago.
The incident is not the first of its kind. In 2008, a Swiss court convicted three Turkish men of racism for denying that the Armenian deaths amounted to genocide. The men were fined SFr6,500 ($7,070) each but not sent to prison.
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In 2007, the leader of Turkish Workers’ Party was ordered to pay a fine of SFr13,000 for a similar offence. During a visit to western Switzerland he publicly denied that the killing of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians amounted to genocide.
The case caused diplomatic strain between Switzerland and Turkey. The two countries have since tried to mend their relationship. The two countries have since tried to mend their relationship through diplomatic activities.
On Monday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag described the latest probe as “ridiculous”.
“Bagis expressed his view in a country which apparently has no tolerance for freedom of expression,” Bozdag said.
Yet Turkey is currently under pressure from the European Union to increase freedom of speech and stop prosecuting its people for expressing their views.
The killing of Armenians is a sensitive issue in Turkey. For example, Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk was prosecuted for his genocide-related statements, but charges against him of insulting Turkey were dropped.