Swiss press freedom dealt blow in bid for overhaul of bank secrecy rules

  div classBodysc17zpet90 cdBBJodivpBy Brenna Hughes Neghaiwip

  pZURICH Reuters – Lawmakers blocked a bid to overhaul strict Swiss banking secrecy rules on Friday in a blow to freedom of information advocates seeking an exemption for journalists and whistleblowers.pdivdivdiv classBodysc17zpet90 cdBBJodiv

  pSwitzerland has been under fire over its press freedom rules after a law introduced in 2015 led one of its leading media groups, Tamedia, to bow out from an international investigation into a trove of Credit Suisse client data, published by a consortium of journalists in February as the “Suisse Secrets”.p

  pA parliamentary committee said it had struck down two motions seeking to overhaul the bank secrecy rule that has drawn U.N. criticism, which would have tasked the government with “reversing the threat to press freedom and the protection of journalists and whistleblowers” that had resulted from it.p

  p“From the point of view of the majority of the committee, there is no need for legislative action because Swiss banks have developed considerably in recent years with regard to the prevention of money laundering and other whitecollar crime,” the Economic Affairs and Taxation Committee said in a statement, adding, without elaborating, a change of law would run the risk of “encouraging public prejudgments against private individuals”.p

  pIntroduced in 2015, the addition to Article 47 of Switzerlands Banking Act states that anyone who discloses to “additional persons” information originally obtained from an employee or entity working for a bank in violation of bank secrecy can be punished by up to three years imprisonment or a fine.p

  pUN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan wrote to Bern in March to voice concern that there were no explicit exemptions for journalists or whistleblowers.p

  p“This paralyses freedom of expression and media freedom, as well as impeding the free flow of information,” she wrote in a letter seen by Reuters. p

  pSwitzerland‘s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said in a reply on April 29 that he was unaware of any recent legal action against journalists and said Bern recognised the importance of media freedom, citing its protection in the country’s constitution.p

  pHe added that Switzerland is in the process of developing a national action plan for journalists safety.p

  pWhile the law had seen little public testing to date, it became hotly debated after a consortium of foreign media outlets reported Credit Suisse managed accounts for human rights abusers, fraudsters and businessmen who had been placed under sanction in the socalled “Suisse Secrets”. Credit Suisse denied wrongdoing.

  pSwiss media group Tamedia declined participation in the project, kickstarted when one person leaked information on the Credit Suisse accounts to Germanys Sueddeutsche Zeitung, saying the legal consequences would have been “unforeseeable”.

  Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi additional reporting by Emma Farge, Editing by William Macleanp

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