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Switzerland referendum supports law regulating public protests

Swiss voters in a referendum on Sunday supported proposed changes to a Swiss law that imposes heavy fines for people who protest without prior governmental authorization. About 55 percent of voters [Expatica report] in Geneva agreed to allow the government to impose a fine of 100,000 Swiss Francs, or approximately USD $110,000, on anyone who protests without first obtaining authorization from the Swiss government or fails to comply with police injunctions. The UN, which is based in Geneva, opposes the law. Last week, Maina Kiai [official profile], the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, stated that the rights to speak freely and peaceably assemble are cornerstones of democracy and that the proposed changes would unduly infringe [JURIST report] on those rights. Kiai also said the fines were excessive and would "have a chilling effect on the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression." Supporters of the law argue that the stricter rules will help prevent violent protests [AFP report] in the city.

The UN, as well as human rights groups, have criticized nations' recent crackdowns on peaceful assembly. In December, a group of UN human rights experts denounced a Malaysian law [JURIST report] that limits citizens' freedom to protest. In November, the UN issued a report condemning Syria [JURIST report] for violating a myriad of human rights, including the right to peacefully assemble. Earlier in November, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] urged Egyptian officials to protect the right to assemble [JURIST report]. That same month, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] accused the Ugandan government [JURIST report] of infringing on citizens' freedom of speech and assembly rights.

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