Swiss priest appeals fine for helping asylum seeker

Norbert Valley on Thursday in Neuchâtel. © Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

A hearing took place in Neuchâtel on Thursday to examine the appeal of a Swiss priest against a fine he was handed last year for sheltering a rejected asylum seeker.

This content was published on April 11, 2019
Keystone-SDA/dos, with input from Marie Vuilleumier

Norbert Valley, a priest in the eastern Swiss town of Le Locle, received a CHF1,000 ($997) fine in August 2018 for helping a Togolese man who had just been refused asylum.

Having rejected the fine in a case that garnered the attention and support of various rights groups, Valley’s appeal plea was heard on Thursday by the public prosecutor in Neuchâtel.

The decision will be handed down in three to four weeks, this latter said; for his part, Valley has said he is willing to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, should he be unsuccessful in Switzerland.

Amnesty International, among others, were in Neuchâtel to support Valley and others like him that have been prosecuted for sheltering asylum seekers.

“Criminalising an act of solidarity is absurd,” an Amnesty spokeswoman told the Keystone-SDA news agency. And yet Valley’s case “is unfortunately not an isolated one, but rather representative of a long series of such cases in Europe, where authorities abuse anti-trafficking laws to criminalise acts of solidarity”.

People vs profit

While some European countries do not prosecute the act of helping illegal immigrants when the intention is honourable (rather than financial), in Switzerland it has been blanketly illegal since 2008.

And while some cases have attracted media attention – for example, the 2017 conviction of a Ticino politician who had helped immigrants enter Switzerland illegaly from Italy – most pass under the radar.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, 785 people were convicted of such a crime in 2017 alone, though this figure doesn’t distinguish between those acting from humanitarian or financial motivation.

A parliamentary initiative, proposed by the Green Lisa Mazzone, has proposed alternative legislation that would not prosecute those acting from purely altruistic motivations.

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