Swiss soldier faces jail for ‘humiliating’ hazing

The former commander of a company of Swiss army grenadiers who allegedly backed humiliating initiation activities for soldiers risks a prison sentence of up to three years, according to media reports.

Swiss soldier faces jail for ‘humiliating’ hazing
Photo: Swiss Department of Defence

Among other trials, soldiers at the training centre in Bure in the canton of Jura were forced to drink water used for cooking fish mixed with schnapps, eat cat food or serve their superiors naked.

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag reported on Sunday that the captain in charge at the time will face a military court at the end of this month, two years after the hazing took place.

The former Swiss-German commander is “accused of disobedience, failure to follow service regulations, abuse and misuse of equipment,” Tobias Kühne, military justice spokesman is quoted as saying.

Kühne said Swiss military criminal law allows for a penalty ranging from a fine up to a sentence of three years behind bars.

The captain, aged 33 at the time of the alleged events, was removed from his position in a tank brigade shortly after videos of the initiation activities surfaced on the Internet, although he was not dismissed.

But the man risks now faces being thrown out of the army.

The head of the tank brigade at Bure, Brigadier Daniel Berger, has gone on record as being opposed to all kinds of hazing, Le Matin reported online.

But the army, in general, is more tolerant, the newspaper said.

“Hazing can strengthen esprit de corps,” Daniel Reist, army spokesman, told Le Matin.

He added that this was the case “provided that alcohol is not involved, that there is no suggestion of racism and that it is not humiliating for the soldier.”

However, Le Matin noted that alcohol was involved in the initiation rites under the accused captain.

The newspaper said that after a combat test, soldiers were allegedly forced to drink beer served in one of the boots each of them were wearing.

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Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

Once foreigners become citizens of Switzerland they get new benefits as well as responsibilities. Military service is one of the latter but does everyone have to do it?

Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?
Once you become Swiss, military service becomes obligatory. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Many foreigners wonder why Switzerland, which hasn’t fought a war in modern times, needs an army in the first place.

But military presence is ubiquitous in Switzerland, stretching far beyond the practical Swiss army knives.

All able-bodied Swiss men from the age of 18 until 30 are required to serve in the armed forces or in its alternative, the civilian service. Military service for women is voluntary and those who choose to do so will be pleased to know they can wear new, comfortable underwear designed just for them.

READ MORE: Women in Swiss military no longer forced to wear men’s underwear

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. This was an experience of one of our readers, Dr. Robert Schinagl from the USA, who said that since he became naturalised “the military has been attempting to recruit me for national service”.

READ MORE: ‘A feeling of belonging’: What it’s like to become Swiss

What if you are a dual national?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

But wait, there’s more

In case you have to serve but for some reason can’t, you’re not off the hook.

If the army won’t get you, taxes will.

If you are unfit for service, or if you fall under the category of dual citizens who served in foreign armed forces (as mentioned above), you will have to pay the so-called Military Service Exemption Tax.

You must pay it from the age 19 until you turn 37 — provided, of course, that you become Swiss during this time.

This annual tax amounts to 3 percent of your taxable income, or a minimum of 400 francs.

What if you perform the Civil Defence service instead of the military?

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40

Civil service has, however, proven its mettle during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, when  around 4,000 civilian volunteers were supporting the emergency services and hospitals.

If you are part of civil defence service, you are entitled to a deduction from the annual military service exemption tax. For every day you worked for civil defence, you can deduct this tax by 4 percent.

This website (in German, French and Italian) explains how to apply for Civil Service.

Does serving as Vatican Papal Guard disqualify you from the military service?

Nice try, but no.

They are not soldiers but part of the Vatican City police force.