Nationalist acquitted over anti-minaret stunt
The president of the extreme right-wing Swiss Nationalist Party (PNOS) has been acquitted of defamation and racial discrimination charges stemming from an anti-minaret rally.
A regional court in Burgdorf, in the canton of Bern, found Dominic Lüthard not guilty of the charges relating to a 2010 rally of around 150 people protesting the construction of a minaret in Langenthal.
In a well-publicized stunt, Lüthard used a broom to brush away cardboard models of five minarets placed on the Swiss national flag while supporters applauded.
Justice authorities pressed charges, accusing the politician of comparing a religious symbol with dirt that needed to be cleared away.
Testifying in court Lüthard explained that he took the action because “minarets have no business in Switzerland”, according to a report from the SDA news agency.
He said the idea came to him spontaneously on the day of the demonstration, although he discussed it first with a lawyer who gave him the green light.
Lüthard said he was unaware that his own party had been convicted of using a poster conveying the same image in 2005 or that it was similar to one used by the 1930s National Front, a far-right party known for its anti-Semitism and similarities to the Nazis in Germany.
He told the court he was focused on the buildings and not trying re-enact a poster image.
A lawyer for the Islamic Community of Lagenthal accused Lüthard of disparaging a symbol of Islam by deliberately wiping the model minarets into the dirt.
Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets in Switzerland in 2009, approving an initiative launched by right-wing groups.
The Islamic community of Lagenthal, which had received local permission to build a minaret before the vote, has sought legal avenues to have the ban set aside, but so far without success.
A Bern administrative court in April ruled that a minaret did not comply with municipal regulations governing rooftop structures.
The PNOS, founded in 2000, was classified as “extremist” by the Swiss federal police in an internal security report a year later.
The party, however, is a marginal force, with no representation at the cantonal or federal level.