SVP ad ruled racist by Swiss supreme court

The Swiss Federal Court in Lausanne has found former leading members of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) guilty of racism over a poster used in its mass immigration initiative campaign in 2011.

SVP ad ruled racist by Swiss supreme court
Logo: SVP

It upheld an earlier ruling that former SVP secretary-general Martin Baltisser and his deputy Silvia Bär violated anti-racism laws with an advert claiming that “Kosovars slash the Swiss”, according to media reports.

The advertisement claiming that “Kosovars slash the Swiss” was used as part of the SVP’s campaign in its successful 'stop mass immigration' initiative.

The initiative was approved by voters in February 2014.

Newspaper advert: SVP

In its ruling, the Federal Court judges found that the advert stirred up public sentiment against people from Kosoo.

The country’s top judges said that most readers would have understood the advert as portraying Kosovars as more violent than other nationalities and therefore undeserving of residency in Switzerland.

But the court was not unanimous in its verdict, with two of the five judges disagreeing that anti-racism laws were flouted.

Baltisser told the Blick newspaper he was “disappointed” at the verdict.

“We were convicted for an advert that depicted a real event. It is amazing that this is a criminal offence in the age of fake news.”

A Zurich prosecutor initiated criminal proceedings against the leading SVP figures in 2012 after two Kosovar nationals made public complaints about the advert on the grounds that it discriminated against an entire ethnic group.

The ad alluded to an incident, which took place on August 15th 2011 in Interlaken, a tourist resort in the Bernese Alps.

According to news reports at the time, a Kosovar man attempted to kill a Swiss Alpine wrestler by cutting his throat with a knife.



Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse

Minors and adults housed in Swiss asylum centres have faced serious abuses at the hands of security staff, including beatings and chokeholds, Amnesty International warned Wednesday.

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse
An asylum centre in the Alpine village of Realp, Central Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In a report, the rights organisation’s Swiss chapter detailed “alarming abuse” in the country’s federal asylum centres, and called for urgent government action to address the problem.

The report documents a range of abuses by staff of the private security companies Securitas and Protectas, which had been contracted by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Amnesty said it had spoken with 14 asylum seekers, including two minors, who reported having faced abuse from the security officers between January 2020 and April 2021, along with 18 current and former security agents and other witnesses.

The asylum seekers described being beaten and physically restrained to the point where they could not breathe or fainted.

Some also complained about trouble breathing after being doused with pepper spray, and being locked in a metal container in freezing temperatures.

The report found that six of the alleged victims had to be hospitalised, while two said they had been denied the medical assistance they had requested.

“In addition to complaints about physical pain, mistreatment and punitive treatment, these people also voiced concerns about (security staff’s) hostility, prejudice and racism towards the residents,” said Alice Giraudel, a lawyer with Amnesty’s Swiss branch.

Such attitudes had seemed to target people of North African origin in particular, she said. Some of the abuse cases, Amnesty said, “could amount to torture”, and would thus violate Switzerland’s obligations under international law.

In a media statement, the SEM said it took the criticism “very seriously”, but rejected the suggestion that abuses were taking place in a systematic manner in federal asylum centres.

It stressed that there was no acceptance for “disproportionate constraint” of asylum seekers, and vowed to “sanction all improper behaviour.”

Giraudel hailed that the SEM had recently announced it would open an external probe into isolated abuse allegations.

But, she insisted, the situation was alarming and required the government to stop looking at allegations of abuse as the work of “a few bad apples”.