Switzerland rejects ban on Nazi symbols and salutes

Switzerland has pushed back against a campaign to ban Nazi symbols and salutes, saying the focus should be on prevention rather than punitive action.

A sign from a concentration camp which says 'work will set you free'

Switzerland’s Federal Council said on Wednesday that it would not act on a growing campaign to ban Nazi symbols and salutes. 

While acknowledging that the symbols can be “shocking and stressful” to some, the focus should be on preventing people using those symbols rather than criminalising their use. 

The Federal Council also reaffirmed the position of the Swiss Supreme Court, which held that objectionable and difficult views were protected by free speech, even if they were untenable for some people. 

In a statement, the Federal Council said “the public use of racist symbols without propaganda purposes can only indirectly affect human dignity and public peace” and therefore did not warrant a ban.

What is the legal position in Switzerland? 

Unlike in many other parts of Europe, the use of Nazi symbols such as swastikas and salutes, is not banned in Switzerland. 

Such actions are banned in Poland – where such symbols and salutes are deemed to be “spreading Nazi propaganda” – and much of Europe, including Germany and Austria. 

In Switzerland however such actions only receive legal sanction if they are deemed to be publicly promoting racist ideology.

What are people saying about the decision? 

Jewish groups have been critical of the decision, saying it was an opportunity for Switzerland to combat what they see as rising antisemitism and extremism here and abroad. 

Swiss Federation of Israelite Communities (SIG) said while the misuse of Nazi symbolism has been a consistent issue, the situation has become comparatively urgent in recent times. 

“Recently, however, especially in connection with Holocaust comparisons and the corona pandemic, we have reached a new peak,” a spokesperson told 20 Minutes. 

“We cannot understand why the Federal Council wants to be on the outside here”

Opponents to Covid measures have frequently made direct comparisons between the treatment of Jews and other minorities during the holocaust and restrictions such as the Covid certificate and other restrictions targeted at reducing the spread of the virus.

The SIG also said a focus on prevention was unlikely to be effective against extremists. 

“It would be naïve to believe that awareness training would help here.”

What happens now? 

While the Federal Council’s decision will stand for now, one avenue for advocates of a ban is to push for change via Swiss parliament. 

The SIG said the measure would win widespread support in Swiss parliament.

National Councilor Thomas Burgherr, from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, agrees. 

“There is zero tolerance for swastikas and such symbols – such tendencies must be nipped in the bud.”

Marianne Binder-Keller, from centrist party Die Mitte, also supported the move. 

Swiss parliament will next convene in spring at the earliest. 

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Swiss woman indicted over ‘jihadist knife attack’ in department store

Swiss prosecutors said Wednesday they had indicted a woman for attempted murder on behalf of the Islamic State (IS) group over a brutal knife attack in November 2020.

Swiss woman indicted over 'jihadist knife attack' in department store

The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano.

She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, IS and related groups, according to the indictment.

She was also charged with unlawful prostitution.

EXPLAINED: Does Switzerland face a threat from terrorism?

The attorney general’s office said the indictment related to a “jihadist knife attack” and the alleged assailant, a Swiss citizen, “intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of IS.”

“The suspect acted wilfully and with particular ruthlessness. She brutally attacked her randomly-selected victims with a knife, with the aim of killing them and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the ‘Islamic State’,” it said.

One of the two victims sustained serious neck injuries while the second victim, with help from others at the scene, managed to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.

The attacker was arrested and detained. Police quickly discovered she had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.

The woman had formed a relationship on social media with a jihadist fighter in Syria and attempted to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, police alleged at the time.

She was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, they said, adding that the woman had suffered from mental health problems and been admitted to a psychiatric clinic.