On 13 April 2017, the Swiss Federal Tribunal upheld a sentence against the former secretary general and deputy of the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP).
According to a Federal Tribunal press release, in 2011, during the campaign leading up to the Swiss vote on whether to halt mass immigration, an advertisement carrying the text “Kosovaren schlitzen Schweizer auf!” (Kosovars slit Swiss) was published on the Swiss People’s Party’s (UDC/SVP) website and appeared in newspapers. In addition to the headline, the advertisement carried a description of an incident that occurred in Interlaken, where a Kosovar, accompanied by a compatriot, injured a Swiss national’s neck with a knife.
After the event, the regional tribunal in Bern-Mittelland judged the UDC secretary general at the time of publication, and his deputy, guilty of racial discrimination, sentencing them to a fine and a 60 day suspended sentence. In March 2016, the canton of Bern’s supreme court confirmed the sentence.
Aggrieved, the pair sought recourse at Switzerland’s Federal Tribunal. On 13 April 2017, the Swiss Federal Tribunal rejected their appeal. In a press release the Tribunal said that anyone who publicly incites hate or discrimination against a person or group of people because of their race, ethnicity or religion, in a way that attacks human dignity, contravenes article 261 of the Swiss Penal Code.
The Tribunal did not agree with the defense’s argument that “Kosovars” are not a race, religion, or ethnic group. It said the term “Kosovaren” in this context means the different ethnic groups living in Kosovo. In addition, it said that for an average reader the title “Kosovaren schlitzen Schweizer auf!” could give the impression that Kosovars are more violent and criminal than others, particularly when presented with a description of the shocking isolated case described in the advertisement. The court said that members of the ethnic groups living in Kosovo were represented as being of less value and that could create, reinforce or at least support a hostile attitude towards Kosovars and the idea they might be unwanted in Switzerland.
The court also thought the use of the plural “Kosovaren” was misleading. It said that an average reader could be mislead into thinking more than one person was involved in the knife attack when only one of the Kosovars stabbed the Swiss victim.
In conclusion, the Federal Tribunal declared the earlier sentences, for “belittlement or discrimination” and “inciting hate and discrimination”, valid. The sentenced parties, in their capacity as communication professionals, were aware of the effects the advertisement could cause, said the court.
In a statement the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP) described the verdict as an attack on free speech. “Two people have been convicted for an advertisement published in 2011 which accurately related the facts as they happened. This judgement is absurd at a time of alarm over the rise of fake news on the Internet. Every journalist must now seriously consider if they should publish a headline that summarises a news item. In addition, there is a political dimension that goes well beyond the facts of this case.”
Press release from the Swiss Federal Tribunal – opens PDF – (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
Press release from the Swiss Federal Tribunal – opens PDF – (in German)
1 Switzerland’s Federal Tribunal operates from two locations, one in Luzern and another in Lausanne.