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In the run-up to a June 13 referendum in which voters will decide whether to support two measures that crack down on pesticide use in Switzerland, leading supporters of the two proposals have been on the receiving end of not just an avalanche of abuse, but even death threats.
As a result, Céline Vara, a lawyer and Green Party politician who helped initiate the proposal for a ban on synthetic pesticides, is now under police protection. Franziska Herren, who initiated a clean drinking water initiative, which, if passed, would stop farmers who use pesticides from claiming state subsidies, has also received death threats.
So too has organic farmer and Green politician Kilian Baumann, who backs both initiatives. Baumann has cancelled all his public appearances until after the referendum because he says the threats against him and his family have reached such frightening proportions that he has “a bad feeling when I leave my family and farm behind in the evening”.
This prompted Fabien Fivaz, a member of the Swiss Parliament, to warn that what was happening was “serious for our democracy”.
Edward Mitchell, a professor in the Laboratory of Soil Biodiversity at the University of Neuchâtel, added that he knew of two other opponents of pesticides that had also received death threats, bringing the total to five.
Climate of fear
The death threats form part of a wider campaign of intimidation by opponents of the citizens’ initiatives. Farmers and beekeepers who support a yes vote have complained of a climate of fear, aimed at stopping them expressing their views for fear of retaliation.
The pro-pesticides lobby has flooded the country with posters attacking the measures and there are multiple complaints of banners and posters put up in response being torn down. A number of beekeepers also say they have been threatened with expulsion from farms and even with harm to their bees if they try to display their preference for a yes vote.