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Switzerland

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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