By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, March 9 (Reuters) - A Swiss court found a Turkish politician guilty on Friday of denying that mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 amounted to genocide, the first such conviction under Swiss law.
Dogu Perincek, head of the leftist-nationalist Turkish Workers’ Party, called the branding of the killings as genocide "an international lie" during a speech in the Swiss city of Lausanne in July 2005.
Judge Pierre-Henri Winzap sentenced him at the Lausanne criminal court to a 90-day suspended jail term and fined him 3,000 Swiss francs ($2,461), in line with the prosecutor’s request, Swiss news agency ATS reported.
He ordered Perincek to pay a symbolic fine of 1,000 Swiss francs to the Swiss-Armenian Association for "moral injury".
Winzap told the court Perincek was an "arrogant instigator" and "racist" who had intentionally denied the genocide, which Swiss public opinion considered "an established historic fact".
The 65-year-old politician, whose party has no seats in the Turkish parliament, was convicted under a 1995 Swiss law which bans denying, belittling or justifying any genocide. The maximum penalty is three years.
Twelve Turks were acquitted of similar charges in 2001.
Perincek, who submitted 90 kg (200 lb) of historical documents, argued there had been no genocide against Armenians, but there had been "reciprocal massacres".
"I defend my right to freedom of expression. There was no genocide, therefore this law cannot apply to my remarks," he said in his opening statement on Tuesday.
He told reporters he would appeal the sentence which he denounced as "unjust and impartial" and "imperialist".
TURKEY SAYS NO GENOCIDE
The case has further soured relations between neutral Switzerland and Turkey, which denies any genocide during the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in World War One.
Armenia says around 1.5 million Armenians perished in the killings, while Turkey says the deaths were part of inter-ethnic fighting, disease and famine in which both sides suffered.
Ankara was incensed last year when France’s parliament approved a bill that made it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide. The bill did not become law.
The U.S. Congress is widely expected to back a resolution next month recognising the killings as genocide. The Bush administration is opposed to the move, fearing the impact on relations with its NATO ally.
The Swiss-Armenian Association said the ruling showed the Swiss law was an "important and efficient instrument".
"The tribunal’s decision today confirmed the opinion expressed during parliamentary debates that the article of the criminal code in question does not only apply to the Shoah (Jewish Holocaust)," it said in a statement.