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Switzerland’s draconian counter-terrorism bill will repress Tamil activists - Phoenix

Photographs courtesy of Sagi Thilipkumar

Swiss Tamil activist group, “Phoenix - the Next Generation”, has spoken out against Switzerland’s proposed “Police Measures to Counter Terrorism” (PMT) which they warn will repress Tamil activists.

In a statement, they highlight that Switzerland “has a history of suppressing Tamil activism”.

“In the 1990s, leading Tamil activists were arrested and later released. In 2018, Tamil activists were put on trial before the Swiss Federal court and were later acquitted. Simultaneously, the Swiss government continues to strengthen its relations with Sri Lanka through agreements and partnerships on migration. Under such circumstances, Tamil activists can be targeted with the PMT law”, they warn.


Upcoming referendum

Switzerland is set to hold a referendum on the controversial bill on 13 June. The measure gained parliamentary approval last year but still requires a majority via a referendum.

The bill has been criticised by 80 Swiss non-governmental organisations, over 60 law professors from Switzerland, and leading human rights organisations including the UNAmnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists.

Among the controversial provisions, police would be able to subject people as young as 12 years old to surveillance, limit their movements, and subject them to questioning without producing evidence that said individual poses a threat. For those aged 15 or over, the police may subject them to a house arrest for up to 9 months on the suspicion that they may engage in a violent act. Critics have noted that this is in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Freedom of speech

Amongst the critics of the measure, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that the “excessively expansive” definition of terrorist activity “sets a dangerous precedent and risks serving as a model for authoritarian governments seeking to suppress political dissent.”

This issue is also raised by Phenoix which notes the expanded definition of terrorism can be used against a broad group of political dissidents. They note;

This definition can be used as an example on the climate movement, as it is “spreading“ fear about the deteriorating climate conditions. The fact that three environmental activists were recently arrested with their belongings seized by the Swiss police indicates, what kind of a future activists can expect in Switzerland.


Collaborating with war criminals

Pheonix further raises concerns over the surveillance of individuals identified as a "threat" and added to the police's database. Whilst they highlight that this would not necessarily be new given Switzerland's history of unjust surveillance, this would be a particular concern for Tamil activists. This is due to Switzerland's given willingness to share this information with Sri Lankan authorities despite the credible risk of torture and abuse.

The referendum on the PMT follows a landmark court ruling in the British Upper Tribunal which recognised that peaceful Tamil activists who had sought asylum in Britain, faced a credible risk of torture if deported to Sri Lanka.

The statement by Pheonix concludes by noting "that it is crucial for the Tamils in Switzerland to vote NO to the PMT law".

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