Vegan activist takes Switzerland to human rights court over prison diet | Swiss

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Switzerland has been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights for failing to provide an adequate vegan diet to an inmate and a patient in a hospital’s psychiatric ward, in a case that could lead to veganism being interpreted as a characteristic protected under the law of freedom of conscience across geographical Europe.

The tribunal, which is part of the Council of Europe and not the EU, this week formally asked its member state, Switzerland, to respond to two complaints that Swiss state institutions failed to provide a regime totally vegan to two candidates while they were in prison. and in a hospital psychiatric unit respectively.

The case centers on an anonymous Swiss animal rights activist who was arrested in November 2018 for a series of break-ins and damage to slaughterhouses, butcher shops and restaurants across French-speaking Switzerland.

The then 28-year-old was remanded to Geneva’s Champ-Dollon prison for 11 months, with cantonal judges arguing there was a risk of recidivism due to “ignorance and regret ” from the caller.

Days after his incarceration, the man complained to prison authorities that he was not receiving adequate food in line with his vegan beliefs and had to eat side salads, rice or hamburger buns .

He refused supplemental treatment with vitamin B12 – a low intake of which can cause anemia and nervous system damage – until the prison provided a non-animal version. Nevertheless, a doctor later diagnosed the prisoner as suffering from constipation, hemorrhoids and iron deficiency.

A written request for a change in diet was rejected by the prison, which indicated that it had already put in place measures so that the prisoner could benefit from a diet as close as possible to his convictions.

An appeal was ruled inadmissible by the Swiss Federal Court in June 2020, after which the prisoner’s lawyer took the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which consists of 46 judges from each of the countries that have signed its European agreement. international human rights law, including non-EU states such as the UK, Turkey, Norway and Switzerland.

A former patient at a Swiss psychiatric hospital has joined the appeal, saying he too was denied access to a vegan diet.

The Strasbourg court, which rejects around 95% of the cases submitted for its examination, admitted the appeal.

In its decision made public this week, the court specifically asked the Swiss state to examine whether the Geneva prison had violated Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that “everyone has right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. .

The Swiss state now has three to four months to respond to questions from the ECHR, after which the European Court is expected to clarify its position on whether the right to a vegan diet in prison and hospital is enshrined in the agreement.

The case has a particular significance in French-speaking Switzerland, where “anti-speciesism” is an important militant movement. But a decision by the Strasbourg court would also have far-reaching consequences for the food supply in prisons and hospitals in the 46 member states of the Council of Europe, which represent around 700 million people.

While the right to a vegan diet in prison on religious grounds is already covered by case law in some European countries, the ECHR ruling could extend it by defining veganism as an ethical belief system.

In a similar case, an Ontario firefighter filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in 2019 against his employer, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, for an insufficient supply of vegan food when he was battling a massive fire in British Columbia.

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