The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Climate activists who refused Swiss military duty acquitted

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 28 July 2023
Switzerland’s famously compulsory military was challenged when three climate activists refused to serve or pay fines based on their personal ecological beliefs.
Climate activists who refused Swiss military duty acquitted
Outgoing Swiss Federal President Alain Berset and Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana, meet the Swiss Army in May (Keystone SDA).

Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court this week acquitted three climate activists of violating their compulsory military duties. 

More on the case

In May 2020, the three French-speaking Swiss climate activists denounced the Swiss military by publishing an article entitled “I am boycotting the army” on the website of the Climate Strike Association.

In the article they called for refraining from doing military service for ethical and moral reasons, as well as for ecological and social responsibility, and not paying any conscription tax. They also published their boycotting article on the Telegram news service.

One of the accused was sentenced by the Vaud cantonal court to a fine of 125 daily rates for failing to serve in the Swiss military, as well as a fine of 1,000 francs for participating in four climate campaigns in Lausanne in the meantime. That decision is final.

Because they lodged a complaint, the cases were forwarded to the criminal division of the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona. In December 2022, a federal prosecutor sentenced all three men, who are now between 22 and 33 years old, to conditional fines of 50 or 60 times the daily fine rates.

A Swiss federal court this week acquitted the men of all criminal charges.

The CHF 11,500 costs of the procedure will be imposed on the federal government, according to a document published by the Federal Criminal Court Thursday. In addition, the three accused will be reimbursed for their expenses of more than CHF 38,000 incurred in the course of the proceedings.

Climate activists who refused Swiss military duty acquitted
Climate activists protest in Lausanne in September 2022 (Keystone SDA).
Debate instead of Judgement

In a media release published on Thursday,

The Group for a Switzerland without an Army (GsoA) on Thursday said via a press release that they welcome the acquittal. Moreover, they are calling for the Swiss convention of charging criminal offenses and fines for violating military duties to be abolished.

It leads to disproportionate prosecution and, in a general context, to the restriction of political rights and, in particular, freedom of expression, they said. A questioning of the institutions must lead to democratic debates and not to condemnations, they added.

The judgment of the Criminal Court is not yet final and can still be appealed to the Appeals Chamber of the Federal Criminal Court.

This article was reprinted with permission from Keystone SDA.

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