Two vegans are challenging the Switzerland government at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over a failure to provide adequate vegan diets when they were in custody. One is an animal rights activist that was in jail, and another is a former patient in the psychiatric ward of a hospital.

This court is part of the Council of Europe and not the EU, and therefore Switzerland, a non-EU European country, is also covered by it (as are the UK, Norway and Turkey).  This case could lead to veganism being recognised as a protected characteristic across Europe, as it has been recognised in the UK since 2020 when a judge in Norwich Employment Tribunal first ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 — this is the legal case I initiated. 

The Swiss case started with the animal rights activist being arrested in November 2018 for his direct action activities and placed in pre-trial detention at Geneva’s Champ-Dollon prison for 11 months. He took the government to court because he was not offered a sufficiently nutritious vegan diet. An appeal was deemed inadmissible by Switzerland’s federal court in June 2020, after which the prisoner’s lawyer took the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights. That is when a former patient at a Swiss psychiatric hospital unit joined the appeal, which will be dealt with by the ECHR as it has already accepted the case. 

In October 2022, the court asked the Swiss state to consider whether the Geneva prison had violated article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Switzerland now has three to four months to answer the ECHR’s questions. The judges’ ruling, depending on how it is worded and whether they decide to define veganism as an ethical system of belief, could impact vegans in 46 European states.

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.