Women wearing full-face veils - Reuters
CAIRO – 1 October 2017: Legislation banning full-face Muslim veils (niqab) in public spaces will be effective in Austria starting Sunday. The government says the law, which says faces must be visible from the hairline to the chin, is about protecting Austrian values.
It comes ahead of a general election later this month which could see gains by the far-right Freedom Party.
Muslim groups have condemned the law, saying just a tiny minority of Austrian Muslims wear full-face veils.
The law bans Muslim veils such as the burka or niqab, but also places restrictions on the use of medical face masks and clown makeup.
An estimated 150 women wear the full burka in Austria, but tourism officials have expressed fears that the measures will also deter visitors from the Gulf, BBC reported on Sunday.
In May, Austrian members of parliament approved a new bill which bans garments that fully cover the face of women – the latest restriction for the country's Muslim population.
The provision was backed by both ruling parties and means that people wearing full-face veils in public will be subject to €150 ($166) fines starting October.
The measure was first announced by Austria's coalition government in January as part of wider proposals aimed at countering the rise of the far-right, anti-Islam Freedom Party.
The ban is part of a larger package which also forbids the distribution of the Quran and requires all migrants in Austria to participate in an "integration" year during which they take classes to learn German and ethics considered customary in Austria.
That measure is targeted at refugees and asylum seekers viewed as having a good chance of remaining in Austria.
France and Belgium introduced a burka ban in 2011 and a similar measure is currently going through the Dutch parliament.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the full-face veil should be prohibited in Germany “wherever it is legally possible.” The UK does not ban the niqab or burka.
In July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld Belgium’s ban on the Islamic full-face veil, rejecting a legal challenge by two Muslim women who wear the full-face veil. Violations can result in fines with up to seven days in jail.
The court argued that the controversial ban was “necessary in a democratic society” and said it does not violate the rights to a private or family life, or freedom of religion. The court added that the ban guarantees the conditions of “living together” and the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
The 2011 Belgian law bans clothing that partly or totally covers the face. The court said its decision goes in line with the law and does not disproportionately discriminate against the Muslim community.
“The question whether the full-face veil was accepted in the Belgian public sphere was… a choice of society,” the ECHR said in a statement.
Islamic full-face veils have become very controversial in European debates related to extremism, freedom and integration in the last few years. France was the first to implement a nationwide full-face veil ban in April 2011.
Belgium and Bulgaria followed; and now partial or regional prohibitions are in place in Italy, Spain, Denmark and Switzerland. The German, Austrian and Dutch parliaments have voted in support of a partial ban on full-face Islamic veils, but no laws have yet come into force.
In March, Europe's top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), ruled that workplace bans on the wearing of "any political, philosophical or religious sign" such as headscarves need not constitute direct discrimination. However, it said such bans must be based on internal company rules requiring all employees to "dress neutrally."