Swiss police have defended handing a Muslim man a £178 fine for saying “Allahu Akbar” in public because passersby could have ‘mistaken him for a terrorist’.
The man, identified in Swiss media as Orhan Ertugral, says he used the phrase after spotting a friend while walking through Schaffhausen, northern Switzerland, in May last year.
The phrase literally means “God is greatest” but is commonly used by Arabic speakers as an all-purpose response to a range of emotions, including joy, distress or surprise – similar to “oh my God” in English.
However, it has also gained a degree of notoriety in the western world through its use as a battle cry during Islamist terror attacks.
Orhan, who went public with his account this week, told local daily Schaffhauser Nachrichten he thought nothing of the phrase, which he said is used by Muslims “almost every second sentence”.
However, as he conversed with his friend “he was approached by an off-duty police officer” who said his “loud and clear” use of the expression could have caused people to fear an imminent terror attack, The Local reports.
“I didn’t want any problems and I spent two minutes trying to explain why I had said what I did,” Orhan said.
The policewoman nevertheless called for armed back-up. Orhan says he was “manhandled” by officers before being issued with a 150 Swiss francs (£120) fine for causing a public nuisance, plus a 60 franc (£58) processing free.
Orhan said that he had decided to come forward with his story following a recent incident in which a Muslim man was allegedly punched by a Swiss border guard after using the phrase.
“I was born here and have never experienced anything like this,” he said. “Just because terrorists misuse these two words doesn’t mean I have bad intentions when I say them.”
A media spokesperson for the force maintained that officer had acted “appropriately” out of concern for public order.
However, the town’s security chief, Romeo Bettini, said that it was “completely wrong” to suggest that saying “Allahu Akbar” was banned in Schffhausen and insisted Orhan had been targeted because he shouted the phrase – a claim the young man denies.