A Swiss court has ruled that the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) must reverse its opposition to releasing information about arms exports to a journalist. The details are in the public interest, the court claimed.
The decision by the Federal Administrative Court in St Gallen on Friday came after SECO had refused to accede to the request of a journalist from the weekly Woz magazine concerning applications for arms exports in 2014.
The journalist, who based the request on the law on transparency in state administration, had asked for detailed information about the businesses that had made the requests, the type of material they wished to export, and the value of the weapons in each case.
SECO refused to release the information for reasons of economic and diplomatic prudence: revealing the names of destination countries could lead to bilateral tensions and the possible future scuppering of deals, it said.
However, the court ruled, such information has a high public interest, dealing as it does with an issue that is much debated among the public and civil society; moreover, the media is vital in overseeing the activities of state authorities.
Before releasing the information, SECO will now consult with the companies concerned to determine whether and which names and details will be made anonymous. It also has 30 days to appeal the verdict to the Federal Court.
SECO already publishes annual statistics about approved exports, but these do not include information about every application and each Swiss company involved.
Last year, SECO recently announced, Switzerland delivered war materiel worth CHF446.6 million ($477 million) to 64 countries, an increase of 8% on 2016.