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Activist sentenced for helping rejected asylum seeker

anni lanz
Anni Lanz in Sion on Wednesday. Keystone / Valentin Flauraud

Swiss human rights activist Anni Lanz has lost an appeal against a decision to fine her for having helped a rejected Afghan asylum seeker return from Italy to Switzerland.

The 73-year-old former head of Solidarité sans frontiersExternal link was first condemned in December 2018 by a local court in Brig, canton Valais, and given a fine of CHF800 ($815).

On Wednesday, she lost her appeal before the cantonal court, who refused her lawyer’s plea that Lanz had acted “purely from humanitarian motivations” in helping an Afghan asylum seeker reenter the country from Italy after an initial rejection by Swiss authorities.

“All violations of the law must be punished,” the judge said.

For the prosecutor, Lanz could have helped the man where he was in Italy, rather than try to bring him back to Switzerland – an argument rejected by the defendant, who said she had tried and failed to find institutions in Milan that would help the Afghan, who suffered from severe post-traumatic stress and who had attempted suicide several times.

Muriel Trummer of Amnesty International Switzerland was at the trial in Sion and said that the ruling was a sad defeat for those who fight for migrant and asylum rights.

“Anni Lanz acted purely from compassion and this ruling is terribly unfair,” she said.

Good intentions

This is not the first such ruling in Switzerland that has raised the issue of how to deal with altruistic motivations in breaching the federal law on foreigners.

Norbert Valley, a priest from the eastern Swiss town of Le Locle, was handed a CHF1,000 fine in August 2018 for helping a rejected Togolese asylum seeker; he has appealed.

And in 2017, a Ticino politician was convicted for having helped immigrants illegally enter Switzerland from Italy and given a fine of CHF8,800.

While some European countries do not prosecute the act of helping illegal immigrants when the intention is honourable (rather than financial), in Switzerland it has been blanketly illegal since 2008.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, 785 people were convicted of such a crime in 2017 alone, though this figure doesn’t distinguish between those acting from humanitarian or financial motivation.

Anni Lanz said on Wednesday that she would examine the judgement in more detail with her lawyer before deciding whether to appeal at the federal level.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR