Content of the Belgian bill banning the burqa
The law banning the full-face Islamic veil in public, approved by Belgian lawmakers, is made up of three short articles, none of which explicitly mention the words "niqab" or "burqa".
"To be punished by a fine of 15 to 25 euros (20-34 dollars) and imprisoned for seven days, or one of these punishments only, will be those who, without legal exemption, appear in places accessible to the public with their faces masked or hidden entirely or in part in such a manner that they cannot be identified," says the main article, passed by 136 deputies in federal parliament.
No one voted late Thursday against the bill, and only two lawmakers in the lower house -- both of them Flemish Socialists -- abstained.
The text of the measure says it does not apply to those who appear in public with their faces masked in some form "due to work regulations or who have obtained a police order for festive occasions."
"Public spaces" are taken to mean streets, public gardens and sports grounds or buildings "meant for public use or to provide services" to the public, including places of business, but also hotels and restaurants.
Some deputies expressed concern that a legally strict application of the bill could mean that full-face motorcycle helmets could be included if a person were not riding a motorbike.
The bill is due to go through the upper house of parliament, the Belgian senate, within two weeks, but owing to the political crisis in the kingdom the entire assembly could be dissolved, raising questions about its passage.
Senate speaker Armand De Decker said Friday that "the law could be put to the vote at Thursday's plenary session" of the upper house next week.
For the bill to be adopted definitively, it would have to be accepted without amendment. Should any changes be demanded, it would have to return to the lower house for further ratification.
© 2010 AFP