One morning in February 2015, Mohamed Wa Baile, originally from Kenya but the holder of a Swiss passport for a decade, was stopped by two police officers in Zurich’s main train station. The officers demanded to see his ID.
Wa Baile, a librarian at the ETH technology institute in Zurich, asked if the officers were looking for a person of colour. When the officers said no, Wa Baile refused to present his papers.
The police officers then conducted a search, releasing him after they found he was carrying a retirement insurance card.
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Wa Baile was also fined 100 Swiss francs for failing to obey a police instruction.
However, the 44-year-old father of two contested the fine and took the matter to court.
The case eventually made it all the way up to the Federal Supreme Court in Switzerland after both a Zurich district court and appeals court ruled there was no evidence the police had singled out Wa Baile because of his skin colour.
The top court ruled that Wa Baile’s case had rested too heavily on the fact that a police officer had stated in his original report into the incident that he had been stopped because he had averted his gaze.
The court said situational factors were also at play: Zurich is a long-distance transport hub and as such, it sees higher levels of crime.
Under Swiss law, people can only be asked for ID if there are reasonable ground to do so. Wa Baile believes this was not the case for him and has now lodged an application for the matter to be heard by European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) in Strasbourg.
A judgement in the case could set a precedent on the issue of racial profiling with Switzerland's Alliance against Racial Profiling arguing Swiss courts are guilty of a miscarriage of justice and of failing to uphold international principles of non-discrimination.
The EHCR should make clear to police in Zurich that such profiling is not acceptable, Wa Baile was quoted as saying in Swiss tabloid Blick.
“I want to be part of the resistance against racial profiling and motivate people to be more courageous and resist racist police checks,” he said.