Graffiti - art or extraditable crime?

The ''sprayer of Zurich'' is the focus of a court case that could influence the future work of graffiti artists everywhere. Harald Nageli, the name with which the ''sprayer'' was born, is Europe's leading graffiti artist. The figures he spray-painted on otherwise blank building walls in Zurich have been photographed and are beginning to appear in art books.

But a Zurich court last year convicted Nageli of willfully damaging property with his spray paint, sentenced him to jail for nine months, and ordered him to pay $90,000 in damages. The fun suddenly went out of spraying for Nageli and he left Switzerland.

But the stubborn Swiss weren't going to let the graffiti artist get away with that: Through the international police organization Interpol, they transmitted a request to all European police forces to arrest him on sight.

For more than a year, Nageli nevertheless lived in West Germany and traveled without hindrance. Then last month a West German policeman arrested him as he returned from Denmark.

The Swiss government immediately asked the West Germans to extradite Nageli. The decision on such a request would normally rest with the state court of appeal in Schleswig, the province in which Nageli is being held.

But members of that court decided it was too big an issue for them. They asked a federal supreme court to decide whether damaging property is an extraditable offense. Nageli's lawyer says the court ought first to decide whether spray-painting a wall is damage - or art.

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