The poster, unveiled in railway stations on Monday, shows a woman wearing a burqa with the strapline “Uncontrolled naturalization? No to facilitated naturalization”.
It was commissioned by a committee co-led by Swiss People's Party (SVP) MP Andreas Glarner to oppose the forthcoming referendum on facilitated naturalization for third generation immigrants, which goes to the polls on February 12th.
Opponents of the bill – which would make it easier for third generation immigrants born and bred in Switzerland to get a Swiss passport – feel it could allow foreigners who are not well integrated to become Swiss.
On launching the posters Glarner told the press that the burqa was a “symbol of lack of integration”
The poster in question. Image: Komitee Gegen Erleichterte Einbuergerung
However earlier in the week some politicians lambasted the posters, saying the bill had nothing to do with burqas.
And it seems many members of the public agree.
Several people have contacted SBB to express their distaste for the posters and demand they be taken down, reported 20 Minutes on Wednesday.
One rail user told the paper that “freedom of religion has nothing to do with facilitated naturalization for third generation foreigners,” pointing out that the bill is most likely to benefit numerous Italians who were born in Switzerland and have lived and worked here for years.
“The campaign diffuses false information and appeals to people’s fears. Does SBB want to support this hate and fury?” she said.
As of Thursday morning 677 people had joined a Facebook group ‘So nicht, SBB!’ (‘Not like that, SBB) appealing for the railway company to remove the posters.
One group member accused the company of being part of a “racist, hateful system” by displaying the posters, while another said the posters were “propaganda” and “clearly racist”.
Another appealed directly to SBB boss Andreas Meyer in saying “as a client with an immigrant background I feel discriminated against. This campaign is already spreading false information and raises fears”.
One former SBB employee told 20 Minutes the poster was bad for tourism as it “gives a bad impression of Switzerland and SBB”.
Contacted by The Local, Frédéric Revaz, a spokesman for SBB, said he couldn’t confirm how many complaints they had received as “that type of figure changes constantly”.
Revaz said the company had no “room to manoeuvre” on the subject because it was bound by law to display the posters.
In 2012 Switzerland’s highest court ruled that rail stations are public spaces, he pointed out.
“SBB therefore has to respect freedom of opinion and tolerate political posters, even if they contain provocative or controversial messages,” he said.