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Public homophobic comments could land you in prison in Switzerland under amended law

The change is creating free speech concerns

A campaign poster showing gagged Swiss MP Celine Amaudruz of the Swiss People's Party and asking Swiss voters in a referendum to reject a proposed ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation, charging it will lead to censorship, is seen on a billboard in Geneve, on January 30, 2020. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

An amendment to an anti-discrimination law in Switzerland means public comments deemed to be homophobic could land violators in prison for up to three years, according to the New York Times.

A majority of voters supported a referendum to add sexual orientation to the list of protected categories under the law, which already protected race, ethnicity, and religion.

Opponents of the change fear that it infringes on the right to free expression. The Times reported:

Yet, opponents argued that such an extension was counter to freedom of expression, and that they should be able to express their views on homosexuality publicly. They gathered the 50,000 signatures necessary to force a national referendum.

A committee against the referendum, "No to Censorship," argued on its website that Swiss people had the right "to express opinions that don't please everybody."

"This also includes defending points of view that are irritating, or diverging from the mainstream," the website read.

Proponents of the amendment say it does not target private speech and only aims to penalize speech that is "insulting" or "promoting hatred," not discussion of disagreements on the issue of sexuality and LGBTQ rights. They highlighted examples of violent or threatening homophobic speech that needed to be curtailed.

"In Switzerland, it's possible to publicly say, for instance, 'Burn the gay' or 'Lesbians must be raped' without any concern," Caroline Dayer, identified by the Times as an expert and researcher on preventing violence and discrimination based in Geneva, said.

The amendment is, at least in part, a response to the urging of the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2017 to enact laws protecting LGBTQ people from hate speech.

Same-sex partnerships are legal in Switzerland, but same-sex marriage is not. Switzerland ranks in the bottom half of Europe (27th out of 49 countries) in terms of LGBTQ rights, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

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