Crime For Members

EXPLAINED: Why aren't suspected criminals named publicly in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: Why aren't suspected criminals named publicly in Switzerland?
Should suspected criminals in Switzerland be named? Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

If you read American or British press, you will see that names of people suspected of committing crimes are published in the media. But this is not the case in Switzerland.


When you read articles in Swiss media about someone being arrested, the details of the alleged crime will be disclosed, but the name of the accused won’t be.

It will either be ‘hidden’ under an alias or only the initials will be used.

There is a reason why this is so: it's the law.

Privacy concerns

Chalk it up to Swiss people’s penchant for privacy or, as some would, say ‘secrecy.’

The same emphasis on protecting the private sphere that had for years been used by financial institutions to justify banking secrecy, has also been applied to suspects in criminal proceedings.

But while bank secrecy (which bankers prefer to call by a more politically correct term — ‘client confidentiality’) is no longer an option for foreign account holders, the legislation protecting personal information from being arbitrarily divulged is still intact. 

That’s because Swiss laws are very protective of individual privacy — including the right of each individual to protect his or her personal life from public scrutiny.

And that includes suspects as well.

READ ALSO: Switzerland's respect for privacy has benefits but it also harms the country


Innocent until proven guilty

The presumption of innocence is a legal right in many countries, but the Swiss take this premise very seriously.

Neither the police nor the courts will ever name a defendant who is standing trial, even for serious crimes.

According to the Swiss Press Council, which has guidelines of its own about disclosing the identity of suspects, even “a murderer and his relatives, who are affected by the reporting of a trial, have a right to protection of their privacy, regardless of the heinousness of the crime committed”. 

By the same token, the names or victims are not reported either, though nobody would argue that they have more reason and right to have their identity protected than than the offenders.

However, the suspects’ right to privacy has its limits — at least in Zurich.


Anonymous except for nationality

In 2021, Zurich voters had approved the compulsory disclosure in police reports of the nationality of people suspected of committing crimes.

In the dispute currently underway in the cantonal parliament, Liberal Green MPs are pushing for the requirement to publish the offenders’ citizenship to be abolished, arguing that “there is no connection between nationality and crime” and that this practice is discriminatory and misleading.

Other deputies, however, claim there is, indeed, a link between criminal activity and nationality because foreigners are generally disproportionately represented in crime statistics.

This idea is supported by forensic psychiatrist Frank Urbaniok.

“The numbers clearly indicate that there is a connection,” he said. "Decisive factors such as affinity for violence or discriminatory world views occur more frequently in certain nationalities."

Solothurn and St. Gallen also have similar rules in place, but Zurich is the only canton at the moment where this issue is stirring up controversy. 

READ ALSO: Which Swiss cantons deport most (and fewest) foreign criminals?


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