Switzerland has banned the ‘burqa’ after a far-right proposal to ban facial coverings won a narrow victory in a binding referendum on Sunday. The proposal was put forward by the same group that organised a 2009 ban on new minarets. The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed. While the bill is being touted as ban on Islamic system of veil and burqa, the proposal also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks.
“In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms,” Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People’s Party, had said before the vote. Facial covering is “a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland,” he said. Muslim groups condemned the vote and said they would challenge it.
“Today’s decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority,” the Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland said. It promised legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and a fundraising drive to help women who are fined. Interestingly, almost no one in Switzerland wears a burqa and only around 30 women wear niqab, the University of Lucerne estimates. Muslims make up 5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
With this, Switzerland joins other countries like France that have banned face veils in public. Two Swiss cantons already have local bans on face coverings. Here is a list of countries that have banned full face coverings in public:
In 2011, France banned face coverings with “Law of 2010-1192: Act prohibiting concealment of the face in public space”). The act was passed by the Senate of France on 14 September 2010. The act banned wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclavas, niqābs and other veils covering the face in public places. The ban also included the burqa if it covers the face. The ban was highly debated in the public as people raised concerns over immigration, nationalism, secularism, security, and sexuality. The advocates of the ban said face coverings hindered the clear identification in terms of security risk and ‘forcing’ women to cover their face under Islamic practices was sexist and oppressive. Opponents of the ban said that it encroaches on individual freedoms and targetted Muslims for their beliefs.
Full face coverings, including burqas, in public are banned in Belgium since 2011. People violating the law can face a fine or up to seven days in jail. However, Belgium only has around a million Muslims and out of those, ony 300 wear burqa or niqab.
here, the burqas were first banned in August 2018 months after validating the law in May that year. The law imposes a fine of up to €135 for offenders.
In Austria, the law mandates that people should make their face visible from hairline to chin, under the law known as Law against Wearing Face Veils. The ban has been in place since 2017. Violators of the law face a fine of up to €150.
In Bulgaria, the burqa ban has been in place since 2016 with violators facing a fine of up to €750. However, it has made exemptions for people playing sport, at work or in a house of prayer.
In Netehrlands, a face covering in public can invite a fine of at least €150. The ban applies to burqas, veils full-face helmets and balaclavas. The ban came into place here after 14 years of debate.