Page last updated at 18:13 GMT, Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Swiss minaret appeal goes to European Court

One of four minarets in Switzerland
There are only four minarets in Switzerland

An appeal against last month's decision by Swiss voters to ban minarets has been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The appeal was lodged by Hafid Ouardiri, an Algerian-born Muslim and a former spokesman for the Geneva Mosque.

Mr Ouardiri wants the court to rule that the ban is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Some 57.5% of Swiss voters and 22 out of 26 cantons - or provinces - voted in favour of the ban last month.

The referendum proposal was put forward by the Swiss People's Party (SVP), the largest party in parliament, which said minarets were a sign of Islamisation.

Switzerland's federal government had urged Swiss voters to reject it, warning it would contravene religious freedom and human rights and could stoke extremism.

A lawyer for Mr Ouardiri, Pierre de Preux, said the appeal would lead to unusual proceedings in Strasbourg, with both sides effectively opposing the measure backed in the poll.

The Strasbourg authorities are expected to take up to 18 months to determine whether Mr Ouardiri's complaint is "formally receivable", the Geneva-based lawyer said.

Once the request is approved, it could take a few more years to reach a ruling, he said.

Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims and has just four minarets.

After Christianity, Islam is the most widespread religion in Switzerland, but it remains relatively hidden.

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