A new government report says right-wing extremism is growing in Switzerland. In its latest report on state protection, the justice and police ministry said extremist groups were attracting more and more young people.
According to findings published on Monday, right-wing extremism has grown most notably in the German-speaking part of the country, with attacks against centres for asylum seekers more than tripling in 1999. A key point in the report is that most of the 600-700 skinheads estimated to be active in Switzerland are under-age, and that they have strong links with other countries.
The ministry also highlighted the dangers of international bugging networks, underlining the threat posed by clandestine eavesdropping that is being carried out at a global level. It said that while new technologies had made it easier for the authorities to gather information, they had also provided a boon for low-budget spying.
The report also warned that the Swiss police forces are understaffed to deal with crises. It cited the example of last year's occupation of embassies and consulates by militant Kurds reacting to the news that the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan, had been arrested. The army had to be called in to ensure the buildings were adequately protected.
The discovery of an arms trafficking ring between Kosovo and Switzerland, is also a matter of concern for the government, according to the report, as is the proliferation of organised gangs from Eastern Europe.
The findings are based on information gathered by the federal, cantonal and municipal police, and published on a yearly basis.
On a separate issue, the federal police have said Internet 'access providers' will be held responsible for sites that the authorities deem to contain illicit information. In a report, the police said it would be up to the providers to block access to the web pages containing racist, criminal or pornographic material once they had been notified of their existence. The providers, however, would not be obliged to track down such sites and report them themselves, the onus for doing that would lie with the authorities.
"We are not trying to introduce censorship or trying to control the Internet," said the head of the Swiss federal police, Urs von Däniken. "However, if printed material of a racist nature is illegal, then so should similar material that appears on the Web."
The police office admits it is costly and sometimes difficult from a technological perspective to carry out such controls, especially since many 'host providers' (those providing several sites at once) are abroad. The report said that extensive freedom of expression regulations in the United States have led to some providers involuntarily promoting anti-Semitic and racist web sites on an international scale.
Swiss providers have reacted with scepticism to the report, saying that while they do not want to help spread racist material, they do not want to be at a disadvantage compared to other European providers. The latter, thanks to European Union regulations, are not generally held responsible for the content of sites they serve.
swissinfo and agencies