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Zurich recommends ban on 'radicalised' Koran distribution campaign

ZURICH (Reuters) - Zurich’s public safety office on Friday recommended towns in Switzerland’s most populous canton ban a campaign that hands out Korans in public spaces, describing it as a front for incitement of radical activities including jihadist involvement.

General view of the city of Zurich and Lake Zurich, Switzerland July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The recommendation clashed with an assessment by federal intelligence services published three days before which concluded a ban on the campaign’s Koran distribution would lead to a “strong conflict with the exercise of religious freedom”.

Zurich’s security department urged communities not to provide a public platform for the Islamic “READ!” campaign, which it said had ties to jihadis in Switzerland and had a number of members being prosecuted by the attorney general.

“The community is not obliged to allow public space as a platform for spreading views that are irreconcilable with our society’s basic and fundamental values,” Zurich’s Security Department wrote, citing a legal opinion it had sought.

“Such actions may thus be prohibited within the current legal framework.”

The READ campaign could not be reached for comment.

The Association of Islamic Organisations in Zurich said it did not expect any negative consequences for the Muslim community, as the measure applied only to a specific campaign.

“We generally prefer individuals to be informed about Islam in mosques or for members to engage in local dialogue,” the association said in an emailed statement.

The “READ!” campaign was initiated by Germany’s DWR “True Religion” group in 2011 with the goal of distributing 25 million Korans across Europe.

But DWR was banned in Germany last November for radicalising youngsters and “propagating extremist ideologies and supporting terrorist organisations under the pretext of Islam”, according to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere.

The organisation had persuaded about 140 people in Germany to join militants in Iraq and Syria, authorities said.

De Maiziere said at the time the group’s distribution of Korans and other religious material especially to young people was not the reason for the ban.

Swiss authorities say more than 80 people have left Switzerland to fight alongside jihadis.

Zurich’s security department urged the Swiss federal government to ban the “True Religion” group under new national intelligence laws that take effect on Sept. 1, and recommended other closely related groups be prevented from distributing Korans in public.

The Federal Intelligence Service, however, said it would be very difficult to forbid the group nationwide because of religious freedom laws.

A spokesman for Zurich’s security department said the measure was a matter of safety policy and did not affect religious freedom.

Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; editing by Ralph Boulton