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Police accused of foot-dragging in child porn inquiry

The downloading of child pornography carries a maximum one-year sentence in Switzerland Keystone

Children's rights groups have criticised police for not taking action sooner against child pornographers after 1,300 suspects were identified.

This content was published on September 25, 2002 - 13:53

They claim the authorities have been sitting on the information for a year and should have acted earlier.

Raymond Paroz, of the organisation Marche Blanche, which lobbies for tougher legislation and more funding in the fight against child pornography, says the slow pace of the investigation is further proof that the Swiss authorities don't take the issue seriously.

"I'm relieved the investigation has finally happened," Paroz told swissinfo. "But that doesn't take away my worry that the Swiss authorities have had all this information for over a year now and didn't act.

"Had this been a case involving Swiss military secrets, or terrorism, you can bet your bottom dollar the authorities would have jumped on it."

The Federal Police Office has denied it failed to move quickly enough, arguing that investigations in neighbouring countries such as Germany took just as long.

Spokeswoman Danièle Bersier said police in other countries had yet to act.

"You can't just launch an investigation like that," she told swissinfo. "We only received raw data from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and that needed to be analysed."

According to Bersier, work began right away, with initial inquiries being made.

She said official investigations were also hampered by the absence of legislation covering the possession or downloading of child pornography from the Internet. This was not classed as an offence until April 1 this year.

The act is now punishable by heavy fines or up to one year in prison. Simply looking at such pornography, however, remains legal.

Suspects

The federal police announced on Tuesday that 1,300 people were being investigated, including teachers, youth workers, and high-ranking civil servants.

The initial information came from the FBI, which passed a list of suspects to the Swiss authorities in August 2001.

But it wasn't until June of this year that the Swiss federal police asked the cantons to begin investigations.

"The Swiss constitution states that children have a right to protection," Paroz pointed out. "And the authorities have not respected that promise."

"In addition," Paroz continued, "Switzerland has signed international conventions on the rights of the child, and is not living up to its obligations under those conventions."

Credit card evidence

All those under investigation were traced because they allegedly used their credit cards to subscribe to US-based child pornography web sites.

The FBI had been investigating an Internet company called Landslide Productions, which provided users with access to sites such as "Cyber Lolita" and "Child Rape".

Raymond Paroz says the Swiss government must act immediately to tackle child pornography on the Internet.

"We at Marche Blanche want to see the reconstitution of a unit devoted exclusively to child pornography," he said.

At the moment Switzerland has a seven-member cyber crime unit, which tackles all forms of Internet crime, including money laundering and terrorism, as well as child pornography.

In 1999 a small unit dealing only with child pornography on the Internet was shut down, apparently because of lack of funds.

"We want 15 people in Bern working on this," Paroz said. "And people in the field too, to ensure international cooperation. We know that child pornography is a worldwide phenomenon."

"The government must answer to our children now," Paroz continued. "I am a father myself, and this is not the world I wanted for my children."

swissinfo, Imogen Foulkes

Key facts

Swiss authorities are investigating around 1,300 people accused of being involved in child pornography.
Schoolteachers, local officials and a high-ranking magistrate are among the suspects.
The Federal Police acted on information from the FBI.
Under Swiss law, the downloading of hardcore porn from the Internet carries a maximum sentence of one year.
But viewing child pornography on the Internet is not a crime.

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