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On 16-17 May 2018, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona will hear a prosecution by the Swiss Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office against two members of the Governing Board and the President of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS), charged with spreading propaganda for Al-Qaida. How did this happen?

Brief overview

At the start of October 2015, Naim Cherni, ICCS’s cultural producer, was filming a documentary and an exclusive interview in Syria with Dr Abdullah al-Muhaysinî, an independent rebel with an Islamic/Islamicist background, known to be a mediator and bridge builder. In 2015, film-maker Cherni travelled again to Syrian rebel territory, this time in the shadow of the seemingly unstoppable rise of Islamic State. Aware of the problems caused for the other rebels in Syria by IS’s ruthless expansion, the ICCS’s cultural producer first planned to focus his film on demolishing IS rhetoric. Cherni wanted to take a critical look at IS’s arguments against the other rebels. In its propaganda, IS invariably claimed that the other rebels were purely secularists and had no interest in establishing a post-revolutionary order based on Islamic Sharî‘a law. Cherni criticised this assertion in his documentary film “al-Fajr as-Sâdiq – The True Dawn in Syria” (12/2015).

During filming, the ad-hoc opportunity arose to record an interview with Dr Abdullah al-Muhaysinî. Al-Muhaysinî had made a name for himself from the start of 2014 through his attempts to mediate between the rebels and IS. When ISIS refused to distance itself from its claim to supremacy, the independent al-Muhaysinî declared a united struggle against the extremist group to be justified. Cherni felt that a discussion with him about the background to his criticism of IS would be exciting, and more, expedient in countering the IS narrative.

Following broadcasting of both productions, Fabian Eberhard, at that time a journalist with “Sonntagszeitung”, claimed – with no expertise – that ICCS would be offering a platform to an Al-Qaida leader by interviewing al-Muhaysinî. When asked by commuter newspaper “20 Minuten”, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of St. Gallen, Marc Forster, let himself be pushed into saying that the Public Prosecutor’s Office ought to launch an investigation.

In fact criminal proceedings were instigated against Cherni barely two weeks after these press reports. He was suspected of promoting propaganda for the banned “Al-Qaïda” groups in contravention of the Swiss Federal Law banning Al Qaïda, Islamic State groups and related organisations. In November 2016, in an interview with Swiss daily newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Federal Public Prosecutor Michael Lauber stated that the case against the President and the communications officer had been widened.

The ICCS Governing Board and the General Meeting subsequently closed ranks behind the accused members of the Board. “The Federal Public Prosecutor’s allegations are inexplicable and bear the hallmark of politicised justice, which is trying to restrict fundamental constitutional rights, in this respect those claimed by Muslims, on the pretext of combating terrorism”, said General Secretary Ferah Ulucay at the 2017 General Meeting.

For their part, the three accused absolutely refute the accusations. Cherni’s productions are neither propagandist in nature, nor is al-Muhaysinî a member of Al-Qaida or any other illegal organisation. They regard the proceedings as being politically motivated, with the aim of stigmatising the Islamic Central Council. The accused emphasise that they have acted in good faith and as part of the work to prevent IS extremism that ICCS commenced as early as 2014.

Political show trial

ICCS is approaching the political show trial, in Bellinzona in mid-May, with great equanimity. The Board knows it is innocent of any wrongdoing and stresses that it will not allow the Federal Public Prosecution’s intrigues to restrict its exercise of its fundamental rights, or unsettle it.
In the meantime, it has taken detailed note of the charges. The ball is now in the Federal Criminal Court’s court, to take a thorough, critical look at the groundless accusations.
The public is invited to view the unprecedented trial at close quarters. The ICCS has announced that in the coming weeks it will pursue an attacking and transparent communications strategy.

Details of the main hearing

Date: 16-17 May 2018 from 08:30
Sentencing: 25 May (afternoon)
Address: Viale Stefano Franscini 7, 6500 Bellinzona, Switzerland
Court: Miriam Forni (President), Giuseppe Muschietti (judge), Martin Stupf (judge) Language: German
Type: Public hearing

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