$1,000 Fine For Covering The Face In Switzerland

Switzerland has proposed a 1,000 Swiss francs ($1,000) fine for anyone covering their face under a new law. 

The Swiss government sent a draft law to parliament on Wednesday that follows last year’s referendum on banning face coverings. As Al Jazeera explains, the proposed ban, also known as the “burqa ban”, was supported by 51.2% of voters, but was criticized as Islamophobic and sexist.

The ban on covering faces aims to ensure public safety and order. Punishment is not the priority,” the Swiss cabinet said in a statement.

The initiative to ban facial coverings was launched by the Egerkinger Komitee, a group including politicians of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which says it organizes “resistance against the claims to power of political Islam in Switzerland”.

The far-right proposal to ban facial coverings in public won a narrow victory in a binding referendum last year after being launched by the same group that organized a 2009 ban on new minarets. 

After consultations, the cabinet watered down calls to anchor it in the criminal code and fine offenders up to 10,000 francs.

The bill does not name burqas or niqabs but doesn’t allow people from concealing their faces in public spaces like public transportation, restaurants, or walking in the street. It especially mentions that eyes, nose, and mouth must be visible in public. This means that a hijab covering her hair is allowed, but not a niqab, a garment which only shows the eyes, or a burqa, a full-body veil that covers the face as well, exemplifies Al Jazeera. These are allowed in places of worship.

Exceptions to the law include face coverings for reasons of security, climate, or health, meaning people are allowed to wear masks to protect against COVID-19.

Muslims which make up 5 percent of the Swiss population of 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Kosovo, are condemning the ban. In the words of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland, “Anchoring dress codes in the constitution is not a liberation struggle for women but a step back into the past”.

Switzerland is one of the five countries where face coverings are banned. France banned the wearing of a full-face veil in public in 2011, while Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria have full or partial bans on face coverings in public.

While proponents of the ban had called facial coverings a symbol of extreme, political Islam, Swiss Muslim groups have condemned the vote as discriminatory and vowed legal challenges. Also, Amnesty International has called the face veil ban “a dangerous policy that violates women’s rights, including freedom of expression and religion”.

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