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Switzerland: Minaret ban would breach religious freedom, warns Amnesty

A ban on the construction of minarets would breach Switzerland’s obligations to uphold freedom of religion, Amnesty International said ahead of a referendum on Sunday 29 November on a constitutional amendment on the issue.

The proposal, which was initiated by members of two Swiss parties, will ask Swiss voters if they wish to add the sentence “The construction of minarets is forbidden” to Article 72 of the Constitution.

The initiators of the referendum claim that the construction of minarets is not protected by the freedom of religion as they have “no religious significance”. They assert that minarets are “symbols of a religious-political claim to power and dominance which threatens - in the name of alleged freedom of religion - the constitutional rights of others.”

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“The people of Switzerland should reject this proposal outright. This would make a strong statement that they support equality of rights for everyone living in the country.

“Freedom of religious belief is a basic human right and changing the Swiss constitution to ban the construction of minarets would clearly breach the rights of the country’s muslims.

“Of course, someone building a mosque should be subject to the same reasonable planning restrictions as anyone else. But these must be applied equally to all. To specifically target minarets while, for example, allowing the construction of church spires would discriminate against muslims on the basis of their religion.”

Islam is the second largest religion in Switzerland after Christianity, and its followers represent over 4 per cent of the country’s population.

There are hundreds of places of worship (mostly in commercial buildings or private residences) in Switzerland but only four minarets have been built.

The Swiss government and all the other major political parties are recommending a ‘no’ vote in the 29 November referendum. Local Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have also joined forces to reject a ban on minarets.

They say that the referendum also poses a threat to peaceful relations between the religions and inhibits the endeavours of Muslims in Switzerland to integrate with the rest of the population.

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