Swiss Islamic leader, facing propaganda charges, refused gun permit

ZURICH (Reuters) - A man charged last year with promoting al Qaeda propaganda has been refused a firearms permit, in a ruling by Switzerland’s highest court which he said was driven by anti-Muslim discrimination.

FILE PHOTO: President of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS) Nicolas Blancho attends the "United in Peace" event in Kehrsatz near Bern, Switzerland April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Nicolas Blancho, chairman of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS), sought permission in 2014 to own a SIG Sauer P226 pistol. His bid was rejected, first by police and military officials and later by a Bern court, documents show.

In Blancho’s appeal, he contended the lower court had failed to appropriately weigh his private interests in obtaining a firearms license to protect himself and his family against the public’s interest in denying him access to a legal weapon.

In their rejection, a three-judge panel of the Swiss Federal Tribunal concluded his appeal failed to address the legal basis of the lower court’s decision and instead resorted to general criticisms that it could not consider.

They also underscored the lower court’s conclusion that Blancho failed to offer assurances he could responsibly own a weapon.

Documents show the lower court considered Blancho’s “radical beliefs,” such as encouraging others to oppose “interventionist Western forces” and what it said was his refusal to completely accept Swiss laws.

“There were concrete indications the complainant himself could jeopardize third parties,” the lower court concluded.

“Nor does the complainant have any guarantee that he would not illegally hand over a weapon acquired by him to other persons who might, in turn, endanger third parties.”

Switzerland has liberal gun ownership laws, but individuals generally must apply for a permit.

The ICCS describes itself as Switzerland’s largest Islamic organization and says it focuses on representing the local population.

Blancho was among three ICCS officials charged last September with offences under the Federal Act on the Proscription of Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and Associated Organizations over films made by members of the group in Syria and posted online.

The 2015 videos included interviews with leaders of a jihadist umbrella group and of Jabhat al-Nusra, which is affiliated with al Qaeda.

Prosecutors say the films were propaganda in which the filmmakers failed to explicitly distance themselves from al Qaeda activities in Syria. The ICCS contends the video was intended to shed light on a troubled region, not glorify extremists.

The ICCS has called the indictments “clearly politically motivated”. The trial is to open next week.

Blancho’s organization called the Federal Tribunal’s decision on Tuesday “scandalous” and said the case was one of several in which Muslims in Switzerland had been denied weapons permits.

In a written statement to Reuters, Blancho called the ruling “humiliating”.

“For a Swiss citizen to be prevented from owning a weapon because of my Islamic beliefs violates principles of equal treatment,” he said.

“It also shows that as a Muslim, I am considered a special case in which people just assume I represent a physical threat. That offends me and is unfair.”

Reporting by John Miller; editing by Andrew Roche