Freedom of expression, security and respect for the law

Interview with Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter (excerpts)

Pietro Bugnon: The pro-Erdogan-campaign in Europe is heading for a diplomatic crisis. The Turkish prime minister didn’t get a landing permission in the Netherlands. The European States feel uncomfortable in the face of the diplomatic offensive of the Turkish government. Just this moment I could speak with Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter about this. Up to now he had not commented on this dossier. I asked him if this verbal escalation had worried him.

Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter: I think in such a critical situation it is necessary to set a clear frame of principles and actions. We determined it already some days ago, namely the frame of freedom of expression but also this of security and respect for the law. Thereby we have to regulate several delicate dossiers affecting the interests of Switzerland concerning Turkey. The eventual meeting of the Turkish minister on Swiss territory with the Turkish community and the Turkish consuls of the region, then the problems related to the asylum law and to possible intelligence activities on Swiss ground. And we regulate all these dossiers according to our principles. Let us first take the question of the visit which eventually will take place tomorrow – it is not clear and confirmed up to now …

You don’t know if it will take place?

It is not an official, but a private visit of the Turkish minister who wishes to meet the Turkish community and the Turkish consuls of Switzerland and Austria. If it would be an official visit we would make different dispositions. Now we deal first of all with questions of security. And it is up in the air if and where exactly this visit will take place. For us in the first place it is a question of the freedom of expression. We believe that the adherence to the civil rights and the freedom of expression is important. By the way – this shall be clearly stated here – this is valid for other states, too, Turkey included […]. Furthermore we point out that the security situation is analysed practically every hour and that it may be necessary in every moment to take action as soon as we think that the security conditions are not guaranteed. […]

No prohibition in Switzerland – but in Germany, in Austria, in the Netherlands. Switzerland in a way isolates herself. Don’t you feel a little bit alone?

Oh no, not at all, because we don’t have the custom to shape our politics by all means like the others do. The Swiss foreign politics is very autonomous, very specific. So, during the time of the coup d’etat last summer we decided on the one hand to take a clear position of condemnation of the coup d’etat, on the other hand in its aftermath, which according to our assessment could become very difficult, to make sure that the relationship between Switzerland and Turkey stayed very intensive and based on a direct, free dialogue. This dialogue was meant to be so discreet that we could address even the most precarious points directly – from eye to eye – that means not under all circumstances attended of the media how it happens very often in Europe. This enabled us to cultivate contacts practically monthly on different levels and declare thereby our positions. […]

You support the freedom of expression but that means as well the risk of possible riots during tomorrow’s visit of the Turkish foreign minister. What would happen in this case?

Listen, if there are risks of riots – I don’t know what riots you speak about – but if you speak about security, this is another problem. But the freedom of expression must not be restricted. Of course if suddenly there occurs a security risk we will take measures, for example that the minister couldn’t proceed to the designated location or that he couldn’t do something he had planned. But then it would be for reasons of security, not for the reason of restrictions of the freedom of expression.
Last year we gave the Kurdish leaders the possibility to express themselves in Switzerland. If the Turkish leader now will also express himself, this is important for the different Turkish groups to be able to form their opinion. In this concrete case it is about a referendum which is very important for the future of this country. And I think that the Turks are old enough to form their own opinion based on the statements of both sides.
Let’s say it again: Switzerland is not a country that forbids the expression of opinion but a country that can take security measures […]. If the event or meeting which the Turks have organised, actually takes place tomorrow – what is not clear at all in the moment as already mentioned – it is in no way impossible that for security reasons we might not be able to let things slide as scheduled.

Source: Radio TÚlÚvision Suisse RTS 1, Forum, 11 March 2017,

Interview: Pietro Bugnon
(Translation Current Concerns)