Swiss minaret ban cases rejected by court

Europe's rights court on Friday rejected two cases brought by Muslims against Switzerland's constitutional ban on the construction of new minarets.

A mosque in Lebanon
H Assaf

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights said it would not consider the cases because the plaintiffs “cannot claim to be ‘victims’ of a violation” of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the court enforces.

One of the cases was brought by a former spokesman for the mosque of Geneva and the other by a number of Swiss Muslim associations.

Switzerland held a referendum in November 2009 in which citizens voted to ban the construction of new minarets, a move that drew criticism worldwide.

The vote inserted a new line in the Swiss constitution stipulating that “the construction of minarets is forbidden”.

The plaintiffs had said the ban violated their religious rights, but judges in Strasbourg said they had not proven the ban “had any concrete effect” on the plaintiffs.

As the plaintiffs could not prove they planned to imminently erect a mosque with a minaret, they could not show they were subject to any discrimination, the judges said.

“The simple fact that this could be the case in the near or far future is not, in the eyes of the court, sufficient” to warrant the examination of the cases, the judges said.

The Strasbourg court is due to consider three more cases on the minaret ban.

Muslims account for just five percent of Switzerland’s population of 7.5 million people, and form the third largest religion group after the dominant Roman Catholic and Protestant communities, although just 50,000 are estimated to worship openly.

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Swiss region of St. Gallen overwhelmingly votes for ‘burqa ban’

A second Swiss canton will introduce a regional "burqa ban", after voters in St. Gallen overwhelmingly voted Sunday to prohibit all face-covering garments in public spaces.

Swiss region of St. Gallen overwhelmingly votes for 'burqa ban'
Opponents of the ban described the new law as populist fearmongering. PER WISSING / SCANPIX SWEDEN / AFP

Nearly 67 percent of voters in the northeastern Swiss canton voted in favour of the new law, according to official results, paving the way for it to follow the example of the southern canton of Ticino, where a law was introduced two years ago that appeared to be aimed at burqas and other Muslim veils.

A text stipulating that “any person who renders themselves unrecognisable by covering their face in a public space, and thus endangers public security or social and religious peace will be fined” was adopted by lawmakers in St. Gallen late last year.

That law passed the regional parliament with support from the populist right and centre parties — but the issue was put to the people after the Green Party and Young Socialists demanded a referendum.

Switzerland's government last year opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban, saying it should be up to the regions to determine if such measures are appropriate.

Voters across Switzerland are however expected to be called to vote on the issue next year after the populist rightwing Swiss People's Party gathered the 100,000 signatures needed to put any subject to a referendum as part of Switzerland's famous direct democratic system.