Coronavirus rules: Does Switzerland have ‘double standards’ for protests?

Coronavirus rules: Does Switzerland have 'double standards' for protests?
Protesters in Geneva hold a sign saying "we don't want a racist world anymore". Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Political parties on the right of the spectrum have called for an end to a ‘double standard’ in large gatherings.

Politicians on Switzerland’s right have criticised authorities for adopting a ‘double standard’ in policing protests, arguing that a 300 person limit on gatherings and events should be removed if it is not being enforced. 

The Federal Council will meet on Friday, June 19th, to debate abolishing the maximum limit as well as other measures, such as putting in a compulsory mask requirement. 

READ: Will Switzerland introduce a mask requirement? 

‘A double standard’

Representatives from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and the centre-right Free Democratic Party (PLR) have complained that businesses and anti-coronavirus protests have been subject to strict standards and harder penalties, while demonstrations against racism have taken place across the country with little police intervention. 

Anti-racism rallies in Geneva and Zurich have been attended by more than 10,000 people each, while several thousands have attended rallies in other Swiss cities such as Lausanne and Bern. 

From June 6th onwards, up to 300 people have been allowed to gather at protests, trade fairs, private events and ceremonies. A limit of 300 has also been placed on nightclubs and summer camps. 

Protesters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The SVP and PLR have called for an immediate end to the upper limit for protests and other gatherings to end this “unequal treatment”. 

IN PICTURES: Images from anti-racism protests across Switzerland 

The PLR said in a statement “Federal Councilor Alain Berset must urgently clarify this situation”, asking why the government was supporting unequal treatment, reports Swiss news outlet Le Temps

“Berset must enforce applicable law for everyone, or indicate how he wants to abolish the complex restrictions for companies, events and consumers.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, police were frequently called upon to break up anti-lockdown protests – despite these protests often only numbering in the hundreds or even tens. 

IN PICTURES: Inside Switzerland's anti-coronavirus lockdown protests 

The SVP has demanded the maximum be removed immediately as it is “pushing thousands of businesses to ruin”. 

SVP President Albert Rösti also said the protest organisers should be held accountable for any subsequent spikes in infection. 

“If it happens, what happened here is negligent killing,” he said. 

“We need to urgently restore the rule of law”. 

A protester in a Swiss flag t-shirt at a rally in Bern against the coronavirus lockdown measures. Image: AFP

'The rules still apply'

The police have said that safety, rather than any ‘double standard’, was behind their decision not to break up the larger gatherings across the country in recent weeks. 

Stefan Blättler, President of the Conference of Cantonal Police Commanders, said “if we (the police) had dispersed the protesters, more people would have taken to the streets.”

The aim of the coronavirus regulation is to protect the health of the population, he said. 

“If the demo had been broken up, there could have been riots, possibly with injuries.”

“This would have led to the opposite of the aim sought by these rules.

“The rules still apply.”

Blättler is apparently in contradiction with the recommendations of his own organisation, which state that permission to protest should only be given where organisers can guarantee a rally will be limited to 300 people. 


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