Espionage: Proceedings against suspected spies are blocked

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Foreign secret services are taking action against compatriots in Switzerland: proceedings against Erdogan’s suspected spies are stuck

Two proceedings against suspected Turkish spies have been suspended – in one case a “torture cellar” and a confiscated mobile phone play a central role.

The secret service has a long arm: opponents of the Turkish regime must expect to be spied on abroad as well.

Image: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

He sent 59 messages to the Turkish secret service, including via Whatsapp, and also called the police several times. The Kurd is said to have denounced compatriots living in Switzerland and alleged sympathizers of the Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK to the autocratic regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The federal prosecutor accuses a Turkish citizen living in the canton of Bern. Last April she charged him with political intelligence. After the coup attempt in the summer of 2016 by parts of the army, Erdogan took rigorous action against opponents of the regime. Politicians warned that his long arm would also reach into Switzerland.

Whether and when a process for political intelligence will take place is open. Last July, the criminal division of the Federal Criminal Court put the case against the Kurds on hold. The federal prosecutor’s office lodged a complaint with reference to the speed-up requirement. But at the beginning of December, the Complaints Chamber of the Federal Criminal Court confirmed the suspension. The case against two other Turks, who are said to have spied on compatriots who were critical of the government at the University of Zurich in early 2017, has also been blocked because the federal prosecutor’s office does not know where the accused are currently located.

The case against the Kurds involves the question of whether his mobile phone may be evaluated or not. The man worked in a pizzeria in Biel. His former boss found out that he could act as a spy. On the evening of May 7, 2019, he and five other Kurds, all PKK supporters, are said to have ruthlessly taken on the alleged traitor. On December 24, 2021, the public prosecutor’s office at the Bernese Jura-Seeland regional court filed charges against four of them on suspicion of deprivation of liberty, coercion and simple bodily harm. One person involved in the incident is on the run, another could not be identified.

According to the indictment, the alleged perpetrators harassed their victim with punches and kicks. They held it for more than six hours – the “Sonntags-Zeitung” spoke of “torture cellar” – and locked it twice for about ten minutes barefoot in the freezer of the pizzeria. The public prosecutor’s office accuses the accused of forcing their victim to sit at a previously provided table with chairs and hand over their mobile phone, wallet and keys. The accused found incriminating chats on the cell phone and conducted their interrogation about the spying activity. During the questioning, they stated that he handed over the cell phone without any problems. It’s one word against the other.

On May 17, 2019, one of the accused reported the Kurds being held in the basement for political intelligence. On the same day, he filed a complaint against his tormentors – and agreed to the evaluation of his mobile phone. The federal prosecutor’s office takes the position that the alleged spy did so with “full knowledge of the investigations that had been initiated”. The Complaints Chamber of the Criminal Court now replies that during the interrogation on May 18 he was questioned as a person providing information and not as a suspect – and confirms the suspension. It states that the regional court must first clarify whether the mobile phone can be used as evidence or not because it may have been taken from him with violence and threats. In addition, it is ensured that the judgments in the various proceedings do not contradict one another. Evidence collected unlawfully cannot be used unless it is essential to solving serious crimes.

Agents are smuggled in via asylum applications

In the last 15 years, only 4 people have been convicted of political intelligence in Switzerland. This also has to do with the fact that the spies are often disguised as diplomats and enjoy diplomatic immunity. Our country is “strongly affected by espionage in various respects”, as the federal intelligence service states in a situation report. Foreign secret services repeatedly take action against their own compatriots in Switzerland. They primarily target critics of the regime, members of the opposition or members of ethnic and religious minorities. They are monitored, threatened and intimidated. According to the news service, the hired spies act out of “conviction, fear or self-interest” and are lured with money or medical services, for example. States often smuggle their agents into Switzerland on the asylum track.

With regard to Turkey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said that Switzerland was concerned about the human rights situation and regularly called on the state to respect political rights and freedom of expression. Switzerland is also concerned about “the political turn that some court decisions are taking”. She reminded Turkey of the need to guarantee the independence of the judiciary. Meanwhile, after the coup attempt, the number of asylum applications from Turkish nationals has risen steadily. By the end of November last year, more than 4,000 people had applied for asylum. Even more applications are currently only from Afghans.

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