Vigilante Justice, Swiss-Style: Website Tracks Foreigners 'Wanted, Dead Or Alive'

A right-wing politician wants the public's help hunting for foreign-born criminals in Switzerland. Echoing the outrage in the U.S. over the shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin, Swiss critics say this is the most dangerous kind of racial pro

Screenshot of Frommenwiler's website
Screenshot of Frommenwiler's website
Franziska Kohler

ZURICH - According to local Zurich radio station Radio 24, a banner reading: "Wanted – Dead or Alive" was posted this week on the homepage of a Swiss website that prides itself on "naming perpetrators." Under this headline, photographs of foreigners being sought by Swiss police were posted, along with personal details and information about their alleged crimes. The content was lifted from a local police website.

Following the show, a Zurich lawyer brought charges of "public incitement to criminal acts and violence" against the operator of the website, Willi Frommenwiler. Frommenwiler is the president of right-wing political party Auto-Partei Bern and has been in court several times on charges of racist acts.

Frommenwiler himself had not yet been informed about the latest charge against him when contacted by the Tages Anzeiger. He created the website five years ago, he said, because he was dissatisfied with the way Swiss police were handling foreigners accused of criminal activity in Switzerland.

"If the police don't have a handle on criminal foreigners, then citizens have to take action," he said. Frommenwiler isn't surprised the "Dead or Alive" title on the site could be problematic. "If you're not allowed to say things like that anymore -- well then, frankly, I don't know where things are heading."

Brigitte Tag, a professor of criminal law at the University of Zurich, sees things differently. "The headline can be viewed as an encouragement, even an incitement to commit acts of violence against the people listed on the site," she says.

Vigilante justice

Not only is the title in itself problematic, she adds – so is the homepage. "It encourages private citizens to track down alleged criminals. This can lead to dangerous situations -- innocent people being mistaken for perpetrators and arrested by other citizens, but also, alleged criminals having their rights trampled."

Peter Breitschmid, a professor of civil law at the University of Zurich, considers the content of the site as "quite sensitive." First of all, by law, privately compiled data has to be registered before it is publicly disclosed if it contains material deemed worthy of protecting, which would apply in the case of a police appeal for public help, the professor explained.

Secondly, the list is "quasi-official" in nature and gathered from third-party sources, not personal research, so copyright is also an issue. And thirdly, says Breitschmid, control over this information was legitimately in the hands of the police – and not intended for private distribution.

After the radio 24 report, the "Dead or Alive" headline and photographs were taken offline, as were some of the individual profiles, like the one of a woman being sought for violation of debt laws. Her profile had been placed alongside those of thiefs and drug dealers.

Radio 24 reports that local police have contacted Frommenwiler. When asked about this, Daniela Sigrist, spokesperson for the Bernese Cantonal Police, had no comment about the exact nature of police enquiries. The operator of the website has been contacted, she confirmed, because the police want to make him aware of "certain potentially sensitive issues, also in a preventive sense."

Read the original article in German in Tages Anzeiger

Photo- Screenshot of Frommenwiler's website

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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