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Islamic veils in Europe

Published on August 19, 2016

As Germany on Friday proposed partially banning the full-face burqa, here is the status of the Islamic garment -- also known as a burqa or nijab -- in European countries.

Germany

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere came out Friday in favour of a partial burqa ban. De Maiziere, one of Merkel’s closest allies, said that the burqa ban would cover “places where it is necessary for our society’s coexistence” including government offices, schools and universities, courtrooms, demonstrations and behind the wheel. He told reporters that the full-face veil “does not belong in our cosmopolitan country”, adding that it was “not a security issue but an integration issue”. A ban would be “likely to win approval” in parliament, he said.

France

The first European country to ban the full-veil in public spaces with a law “banning the hiding of the face in public spaces”, the law was adopted on October 11, 201O and applied on April 11, 2011. The European Court of Human Rights in 2014 upheld the burqa ban, rejecting arguments that outlawing full-face veils breached religious freedom. The law has resulted in around 1,500 arrests in the past five years.

Over the summer of 2016, several French towns have also taken the controversial decision to ban burkinis, the full-body Islamic swimsuit

Belgium

The wearing of the full veil is governed by a June 1, 2011 law. It prohibits “appearing in places accessible to the public with a face masked or hidden, in whole or in part, in such a way as to be unidentifiable”. Exceptions exist, in particular where the workplace requires the face to be hidden, or for the carnival season.

Italy

A 1975 law aimed at protecting public order makes it illegal to cover one’s face in public places and the provision applies to the veil, as well as motorcycle helmets and other masks. The anti-immigrant Northern League has said this week it plans to present a draft law in September more specifically aimed at banning the burqa, niqab and the burkini. However, the government has said it is not in favour of legislation on the issue on grounds of freedom of religion guaranteed under the Constitution.

Britain

There is no law in Britain restricting the wearing of garments for religious reasons. However in March 2007 the education ministry published directives allowing directors of public establishments and denominational schools to ban the niqab veil. Judges have on occasion refused to hear veiled women because they could not verify their identity.

Netherlands

There is legislation for approval before parliament to ban the wearing of burqas, helmets and face masks in education, public transport, healthcare and government buildings.

The bill was proposed by Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk last year, as he believed clothing that covered the face hindered communication in public services and could pose a security threat.