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Legal decision on racism baffles experts

Being racist in the army is not the same as being racist in public Keystone

Four members of Switzerland's militia army will not be held accountable for racism after they used the Nazi salute as well as racist expressions while on duty.

The military authorities found that the behaviour in question was not discriminatory, as it did not take place in public but in barracks and on marches.

The military spokesman said on Tuesday that only a very small circle of people had been subjected to the conduct of the two corporals and two recruits.

However, the men have not got away completely scot-free as they now face disciplinary action for disrespectful conduct and mischievous behaviour.

The spokesman said neither the military justice nor the armed forces tolerated any form of racism.

No further details from the investigation into the men’s conduct were released.

Problematic definition

A number of legal experts, however, have raised their eyebrows at the decision.

Georg Kreis, president of the Federal Commission against Racism, found broadening the definition of a public place particularly problematic.

He called on politicians to condemn the decision by the military investigating magistrate and appealed to the public to make clear that such behaviour was unacceptable.

Marcel Niggli, a professor of criminal law at Fribourg University, also found the decision hard to swallow.

The decision could be understood to mean that army matters were defined as private rather than public, Niggli criticised.

The four army members were sent home in August 2005 from a training camp for elite infantrymen, sparking off an internal military inquiry.

At the time, the defence ministry released a statement pointing out that, while the army cherishes freedom of expression, it did not tolerate extremist language, gestures and actions within its ranks.

swissinfo with agencies

For the past four years, the government’s extremism watchdog duties have included surveillance of potential extremist elements within the army’s ranks.
There are usually fewer than eight cases of extremist behaviour recorded each year.
But there are an estimated 800 rightwing extremists in the army.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR