Switzerland Weighs 'Zero Tolerance' Approach To Forced Marriages

'Coercion' is already a crime under Swiss law. But a new bill coming up before parliament would single out coercion in the form of forced marriages. Not surprisingly, debate over the issue is bound to be highly charged -- and about much

Switzerland's Federal Assembly building in Bern (Wikipedia)
Switzerland's Federal Assembly building in Bern (Wikipedia)


ZURICH -- Lawmakers in Switzerland will soon be considering a bill that criminalizes forced marriage. Supporters of the measure say such marriages are "incompatible with Swiss culture." Some critics, however, worry that the bill is less about protecting victims of forced marriage than it is about targeting Muslims. The bill goes before the Nationalrat, the lower house of Switzerland's Federal Assembly, in the upcoming spring session.

Under the new proposal, anyone "who uses violence or threatens unpleasant consequences' to force another into marriage would be committing a criminal offense. Technically speaking, such actions are already against the law in Switzerland, where perpetrators can be prosecuted for "coercion," a more general category. Authors of the new bill are hoping to clamp down even harder by making forced marriage a separate, specific crime that carries prison sentences of up to five years. In less severe instances, perpetrators would be fined.

Lucerne national councilor Ruedi Lustenberger of the Christian Democratic People's Party of Switzerland (CVP) doesn't think the proposal goes far enough. "Forced marriages are simply not reconcilable with our culture," he says, adding that he would support a minimum of two years' prison for parents who force their offspring into marriage against the latter's express will. This would mean that those without Swiss citizenship would face automatic expulsion from Switzerland. Current practice is that any non-Swiss sentenced to more than a year in prison has their residency permit taken away. Foreigners with a Swiss spouse lose their residence permits if they are sentenced to two years of prison – hence Lustenberger's suggested minimum two-year sentence.

Lustenberger can count on the support of the conservative Swiss People's Party, the Liberals, and Conservative Democratic Party, but not of the Free Democratic Party, or left-wing and green parties. "A minimum sentence of two years would limit the judge's margin of discretion too much," says Solothurn national councilor Kurt Fluri of the Free Democratic Party. Fluri doesn't buy Lustenberger's line that forced marriage is irreconcilable with Swiss culture. "So is theft," Fluri says.

Marc Spescha, a lawyer specialized in immigration issues, questions whether creating a separate criminal offence for forcing someone to marry would have anything more than symbolic value. He points out that charges are hardly ever brought in Switzerland. However, the National Council's proposed measures also include ways of making more effective investigation possible such as having civil registrar offices follow up applications for marriage licenses in cases of doubt.

A 2006 study estimated the number of forced marriages in Switzerland to be 17,000, with a third of the victims minors.

Read the full story in German by Fabian Renz

Photo - Wikipedia

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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