Bulgaria becomes next EU country to ban full-face Islamic veil
by Daily Sabah with Wires
IstanbulOct 01, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Daily Sabah with Wires
Oct 01, 2016 12:00 am
Echoing moves by France and other European nations, Bulgaria's parliament approved on Friday legislation outlawing face-covering Islamic veils in public, joining a small number of EU countries as the debate rages across Europe about religious freedoms.
The law "bans wearing in public clothing that partially or completely covers the face," referring to the burqa or the more common niqab. Infringements carry fines of 200 leva (103 euros), rising to 1,500 leva for repeated offences. Bulgaria's mostly centuries-old Muslim community, dating back to conversions during Ottoman times, makes up around 13 percent of the population, mostly in the Turkish minority. Muslim women in Bulgaria have generally worn just a simple scarf to cover their hair.
But there has reportedly been a small rise in the number of women wearing the niqab among ultra-conservative Muslim communities of the Roma minority.
The often impoverished and marginalized Roma make up just under 10 percent of Bulgaria's population, around a third of who are Muslim. Several Bulgarian towns had already banned the niqab at the local level.
The legislation was approved despite opposition from the MDL Turkish minority party, which accused the other parties of "sowing religious intolerance."
France was the first country in Europe to ban Islamic face veils, such as the burka and the niqab, in public places as the controversial ban took effect in April 2011. France was also this summer embroiled in a row over bans on the burkini, a full-body Islamic swimsuit, in resorts around the Riviera. After France, Belgium has outlawed the burka since 2011. The Dutch cabinet approved plans to ban the full face Islamic veil in government buildings, schools, hospitals and on public transport in 2015. In Italy, the ban on women wearing the burka has been in effect in only Lombardy since December 2015. A poll published earlier this month showed Britons to be strongly in favor of a burqa ban. The anti-immigration far-right party Ukip has long called for a burqa ban across the country. The latest move came from Switzerland as the Swiss parliament narrowly backed a ban on face veils on Tuesday.
The plan by right-wing politician Walter Wobmann - who led a successful campaign to outlaw new minarets in 2009 - still has to pass through the upper house and the government before it becomes law.
But it joins a list of measures championed by populist and right-wing movements that have polarized the Alpine nation, and drawn some criticism from abroad, including most recently a referendum ordering curbs on immigration from the EU.
Wobmann, from the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party, has said the veil ban will preserve Swiss culture and curb radical Islam. He is also pushing for a referendum on the issue.
His party, the most powerful in Swiss parliament after winning about 30 percent of the seats in a 2015 election, pushed the measure through with help from lawmakers from the center-right. It may have a tougher time passing the upper house, where parties that opposed the ban, including the Social Democrats, have a stronger presence. A poll in August found that 71 percent of Swiss residents favor a nationwide burqa ban along the lines of one that went into effect in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino this year, covering locals and visitors alike. About 5 percent of Swiss residents are Muslim and very few wear the face-covering niqab or burqa.