Santa's burqa? Austrian police make St Nicholas remove full-face beard

The Austrian law banning full-face veils has claimed an unusual victim: a man impersonating the iconic St Nicholas for a children's party, whose red frock and frothy fake beard the police deemed the equivalent of a burqa.

The man, identified only as Hans M in media reports, was stopped by several officers as he was driving to a Viennese school party dressed as St Nicholas, the Christian saint who inspired Santa Claus.

“Don’t you know about the full-face ban?” a policeman asked the 35-year-old St Nicholas, according to the Heute newspaper. Hans’ arguments that he was late for the show and children were waiting did not help. The officers demanded he take off his fake white beard and red frock, and proceeded to search his car for at least 15 minutes. “They even checked my spare glasses,” the man said.

Finally, the police stopped the search and allowed Hans to leave. “You’ll hear from us,” were the last words from the officers, recalls Hans who, fearing the consequences, hired a lawyer.

Hans’ lawyer, Erich Gemeiner, confirmed the incident to RT. “My client works as a Santa Claus every year. He has a lot of [shows] in kindergartens and schools and that’s why he was in a hurry [that day],” he said.

Gemeiner believes that the case is merely a provocation, as Hans didn’t fully cover his face and the police had no reason to take off even the frock.

“It wasn’t a normal traffic check, the police were driving next to him,” Gemeiner said.

The officers stopped him just because he was dressed as Santa Claus, Gemeiner added. “I think the scene was just to annoy him and to hold him as long as possible so that he would never be in time [for the show].”

Austria’s controversial ban on the wearing of full-face veils in public places came into effect in October this year. Those found in breach of the “Anti-Face Veiling Act” will be subject to fines of €150. The law does exempt people who cover their faces for medical or safety reasons, including hazardous weather conditions such as smog. Participants of street carnivals and other “artistic, cultural or traditional events” are also exempt, along with athletes requiring face-covering gear. Apparently, the St Nicholas incident was not considered an “artistic” or “cultural” event by the police officers.

Hans is not the first victim of the newly-adopted legislation. In October, police flocked to a Lego store in Vienna, responding to a report of a violation of the law forbidding full-face veils. The officers responded to the call, only to find out that the apparent “criminal” was a woman dressed in a Lego Red Ninja costume. She was not issued with a fine, though: police said they established she concealed her face as part of her “professional occupation.”

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