Women facing fines of up to £6,500 for wearing burkas in Swiss region

The burka will be banned in all public places

Wearing a burka or niqab in public has been banned in the Swiss region of Ticino, with offenders facing a fine of up to £6,500.

The region's parliament approved the law on Monday, thereby banning full-face veils worn by women in many Muslim countries, in the wake of heightened terrorist alerts across Europe.

It is now a criminal offence for women in the Italian-speaking canton in southern Switzerland to cover their faces with the garments in all public places, including shops, restaurants, public buildings and behind the wheel of a car, the Local reports.

No exceptions will be made for tourists, but other forms of face coverings such as masks, balaclavas or crash helmets will still be permitted.

Almost two-thirds of the region's voters supported the ban in a referendum in September 2013 before it was approved by Parliament.

The vote was launched under Switzerland’s direct democracy, which allows proposals to be put to the public if enough signatures are collected.

Giorgio Ghiringhelli, who drew up the proposal, said the result would send a message to “Islamist fundamentalists”, who he claimed were in Ticino and across Switzerland.

“Those who want to integrate are welcome irrespective of their religion,” he said. “But those who rebuff our values and aim to build a parallel society based on religious laws, and want to place it over our society, are not welcome,” he added.

Amnesty International said the vote was a “black day for human rights in Ticino.”

Ticino's latest law echoes a similar law in France, which was the first European country to ban the burka, and all other forms of face-covering, in 2010, going into effect the following year.

The law was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in July 2014. Similar laws have since been passed in Belgium and the Netherlands.

In 2009, Swiss voters backed a ban on constructing new minarets and the Swiss People’s Party has made opposition to immigration a key focus.

However, a nationwide ban on burkas in public places was rejected by Swiss parliament in 2012.

The cantons of Basel, Bern, Schwyz, Solothurn and Fribourg have also rejected similar proposals.

There are around 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland, about 5 per cent of the population.