Nov. 29. 2009


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Swiss Voters Approve Ban on Construction of Minarets (Update3)
Andreas Gross: «Slap in the face to everyone who has an idea of the human rights»

By Klaus Wille

Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of mosque minarets, from where Muslims are called to prayer, in a result that went against the findings of pre-election polls. The initiative, sponsored by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party or SVP, was backed by almost 58 percent of the voters today, said Andre Simonazzi, a spokesman for the government. The turnout was about 53 percent, he said by telephone from the capital Bern.

«The Federal Council respects this decision,» the government said in a statement. «Consequently, the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted. The four existing minarets will remain. It will also be possible to continue to construct mosques. Muslims in Switzerland are able to practice their religion alone or in community with others, and live according to their beliefs just as before.»

Pro-ban posters showing a black-veiled figure standing next to a Swiss flag covered in missile-like minarets were outlawed in several cities on the grounds that they were discriminatory. Campaigners for the ban argued that minarets are symbols of religious and political power that will pave the way for the eventual introduction of Sharia law in Switzerland. About 5 percent of the country’s 7.8 million people are Muslim.

Misdirected by Emotions

Andreas Gross, a member of the Swiss parliament’s house of representatives and president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, called the ban a «slap in the face to everyone who has an idea of the human rights. This is clearly the result of a lack of information and political education in Switzerland.»

Gross accused the country’s political parties and media of failing to inform Swiss citizens and, as a result, «the voters have been misdirected by their emotions. The foundations of Switzerland’s direct democracy have failed.» The ban «contradicts human rights, in particular the freedom of worship. And it contradicts the European Convention on Human Rights,» Gross said.

The ban may provoke legal action by Muslims living in Switzerland or intervention by international organizations such as the United Nations, said Farhad Afshar, president of Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland in Bern. «I don’t rule out that Muslim communities in Switzerland will go to court against this referendum, most probably in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg,» he said by telephone. «Muslims in Switzerland won’t feel welcome after this referendum.»

Reflecting Fears

The government and most Swiss lawmakers opposed the initiative. The Justice Ministry contended a ban on new minarets would violate freedom of religion as well as Switzerland’s international human-rights commitments and fundamental rights under the Swiss constitution. Justice Minister Eveline Widme-Schlumpf said today the outcome of the vote reflects fears about Islamic fundamentalist tendencies. «These concerns have to be taken seriously,» she said in the statement. «The Federal Council has always done so and will continue to do so in future. However, the Federal Council takes the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies.»

The SVP said the referendum outcome «,clearly shows the unease of Swiss voters about a creeping Islamization of Switzerland» and is a «clear mandate to the government. The rule of law must be enforced for everyone living in our country. Those who don’t stick to our rules forfeit the right to live here.» One of the country’s four minarets is in Geneva and another is in Zurich.

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