Swiss parliament paves way for nationwide burqa ban

A Swiss national flag (L), a woman wearing burqa. © Reuters
Switzerland’s parliament has approved a draft bill aiming for a nationwide burqa ban, initiated by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP). Its backers also launched a public petition with the same goal.

The draft bill was approved on Tuesday, with 88 MPs of the lower house voting in favor and 87 voting against the move. The draft legislation should be now reviewed by the Council of States, which represents all 26 Swiss cantons. Back in January the body signaled that it is likely to vote against such a measure, citing small numbers of women wearing the burqa in the country.

Tuesday’s vote was based on a SVP proposal which had roots back in 2014. An SVP MP and an anti-immigration advocate Walter Wobmann said that the main goal is to “maintain public order and respect for the dignity of women." Earlier in September Wobmann urged the banning of hijabs from passports, saying that “it is unacceptable that you can wear a hijab in a photo but not a cap.”

The SVP-linked activists have meanwhile launched an initiative called “Yes to disguise ban.” On its website the project calls for an amendment to the Swiss constitution so that it contains a new article, banning the burqa across the country.

“No person shall cover [his/her] face in public and in places accessed by the public (exempt for holy places),” the statement by the initiative reads.

The paper adds that “no one is allowed to force a person to conceal [his/her] face because of their gender.” However it also states that exemptions are allowed in the case of “medical, security, climatic” reasons. The initiative must gain a minimum of 100,000 votes by September 15, 2017 for the move to be handled by authorities.

The burqa, alongside niqab is a full-face veil that only leaves a small opening for the eyes and is worn by women adhering to certain conservative interpretations of Islam. According to the latest polls conducted by the Swiss “Schweiz am Sonntag” news outlet 60 percent of people in the country are in favor of a nationwide burqa ban.

On July 1 this year the Swiss canton of Ticino already implemented a complete ban on wearing the burqa and niqab, with a fines ranging from 100 Swiss francs ($98) to 10,000 ($10,200).

The majority of people in neighboring Germany has also backed a complete ban on burqa according to an August ARD poll. The survey said that 51 percent of respondents advocated outright prohibition. The idea is being strongly supported by the German anti-immigrant AfD party.

Similar mood can be noticed in the UK, where a recent YouGov poll found that 57 percent of Brits would vote in favor of burqa prohibition.

In May, the Dutch government backed a partial ban on wearing an Islamic face-covering veil in schools, hospitals and on public transport, with fines amounting to £300 ($388).

In 2011 France became the first European country to outlaw full-face coverings including the burqa. The country’s island of Corsica caused an angry reaction from Muslim women this summer after it also banned the burqini – full-body swimsuits worn by Muslim women. In July the island’s authorities bypassed the State Council’s legislation regarding the issues and introduced the ban on the beaches of commune of Sisko.