Zurich ban on political gatherings deemed unconstitutional

A May Day march last week in central Zurich. Keystone / Detlev Munz

A Zurich court has ruled that a cantonal ban on public demonstrations of more than 15 people – which was in place until last month as part of Covid-19 measures – was unconstitutional.

This content was published on May 6, 2021 - 15:27

Judges at the Zurich administrative court said that the limitation violated the federal constitution, in particular the protection of the freedom of opinion and assembly.

Considering current knowledge about how Covid-19 is transmitted, the fact that demonstrations can be regulated by authorities, and the fact that masks at such gatherings are compulsory, the 15-person limit was “disproportionate”, judges said in the ruling published on Thursday.

The nine people who had raised the case welcomed the verdict. They will now push to overturn the thousand or so fines which were handed out to people for gathering in large groups.

Switzerland’s federal system of politics grants many powers to individual cantons.

When the pandemic first struck, the government evoked emergency powers to centralise decision making, but gave powers back to the cantons in the summer.

Demanding political rights

The Zurich rule of 15, which was raised to 100 on April 18 last month in tandem with a national loosening of measures, had been criticised by those who saw it as infringing on political rights.

Federal regulations differentiate between political demos (currently no size limit) and entertainment events (capped at 100 spectators outdoors). In contrast, the Zurich authorities did not – and still do not – make a distinction between the various types of gatherings.

As a result, several demonstrations in the canton were broken up over the past few months, notably in the city of Zurich, and the rule was much debated. The city’s politician in charge of security affairs, Karin Rykart of the Green Party, also criticised the cantonal measure.

The court did not rule on whether the current Zurich limit of 100 is also unconstitutional. Those who brought the initial case said on Thursday they also want to see it removed, but they have yet to launch a case.

The Zurich cantonal government can still appeal Thursday’s verdict to the federal court.

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