Performing a Nazi salute is neither illegal nor racist if it is meant as a “personal statement”, a Swiss court has ruled.
The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland decided that the Hitler salute is not always punishable and is only a crime if the perpetrator is trying to spread racial hatred.
Judges agreed that although offensive, the action was not illegal if it was only meant to express someone’s own ideological stance.
The ruling, which will serve as a precedent for Swiss law, came at the end of an appeal by a man charged with racial discrimination.
He had been convicted by another court after performing a Hitler salute in public at a demonstration by the far-right Swiss Nationalist Party (Pnos) in 2010.
The man allegedly held his arm up for 20 seconds while the 150 protesters recited the oath of the Old Swiss Confederacy taken from William Tell.
Walkers and police officers also witnessed the gesture at the famous Ruetli meadow above Lake Lucerne where, according to legend, the modern Swiss Confederation was formed in 1291.
The meadow is the site of annual celebrations for Swiss National Day and a frequent target for neo-Nazi events.
Performing the Hitler salute is a criminal offence in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.
Anti-racism campaigners have expressed concern over the latest ruling, which came months after a decision that ethnic slurs like “black swine” (Schwarze Sau) are insulting but do not constitute racial attacks.
The Swiss government previously decided not to ban Nazi symbols, including the swastika.
Additional reporting by AP