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Amnesty blasts Belgian vote to ban wearing Islamic burqa

Amnesty International Thursday condemned a vote in the lower house of Belgium’s parliament to ban the wearing of the Islamic burqa in public, warning it set “a dangerous precedent.”

“A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s expert on discrimination in Europe.

“The Belgian move to ban full face veils, the first in Europe, sets a dangerous precedent,” he warned.

In a move that paves the way for the first clampdown of its kind in Europe, 136 deputies in the lower house of Belgium’s federal parliament voted earlier Thursday in favour of the move.

It prohibits nationwide clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the full-face niqab and burqa.

All governing parties and the opposition agreed on the move — most on the basis that people cannot be recognised wearing the clothing — but the upper house of parliament has two weeks to raise any objections to the decision.

Amnesty called on the upper house to review the legislation, adding it believed the move was in breach of Belgium’s obligations under international human rights law.

Although Belgian lawmakers had argued the law was necessary to protect public security, the rights group said the measures went too far.

Dalhuisen said there was no “demonstrable link between the wearing of full face veils in Belgium and genuine threats to public safety.”

“There can be no justification for the restriction on the freedom of expression and religion that a complete ban on the wearing of face veils in public places would entail,” he added.