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Switzerland: Compulsory mixed school swim lessons spark Muslim parents’ human rights complaint

Tomorrow, judges will announce their decision in a human rights complaint against Switzerland, brought by Muslim parents who objected to their daughters attending compulsory school mixed swimming lessons.

The European Court of Human Rights decision in the case Osmanoglu and Kocabas v. Switzerland (no. 29086/12) is expected on 10 January.

The applicants, Aziz Osmanoğlu and Sehabat Kocabaş, are two Swiss nationals who also have Turkish nationality. They were born in 1976 and 1978 respectively and live in Basle (Switzerland).

Osmanoğlu and Kocabaş refused to send their daughters, born in 1999 and 2001, to compulsory swimming lessons as part of their schooling, on the ground that their beliefs prohibited them from allowing their children to take part in mixed swimming lessons. They were advised by the Public Education Department of the Canton of Basle Urban that they risked a maximum fine of 1,000 Swiss francs (CHF) each if their daughters did not attend the compulsory lessons, as the girls had not yet reached the age of puberty and as such could not claim exemption under the legislation.

Despite attempts at mediation by the school, the applicants’ daughters continued not to attend the swimming lessons. As a result, in July 2010, the education authorities ordered Osmanoğlu and Kocabaş to pay a fine of CHF 350 per parent per child (a total of approximately 1,292 euros (EUR)) for acting in breach of their parental duty. The applicants appealed to the Court of Appeal of the Canton of Basle Urban, which dismissed their claims in May 2011.

They lodged a further appeal with the Federal Court which was dismissed in March 2012, on the grounds that there had been no breach of the applicants’ right to freedom of conscience and belief.

Relying on Article 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion), Osmanoğlu and Kocabaş allege that the requirement to send their daughters to mixed swimming lessons is contrary to their religious convictions.

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