Latvia has banned women from wearing the Islamic full-face veil in public, despite only three people being known to wear them in the entire country.
Authorities say the new legislation is necessary in order to protect Latvian culture and prevent terrorists from smuggling weapons under garments.
The move follows a similar ban on full-face veils in public spaces implemented by France in 2011.
Latvia’s Justice Minister Dzintars Rasnacs said the law – which he hopes will come into place by 2017 – is less to do with the number of women wearing the traditional niqab, but rather about ensuring prospective immigrants respect the country’s values.
“A legislator’s task is to adopt preventative measures,” Mr Rasnacs told the New York Times. “We do not only protect Latvian cultural-historical values, but the cultural-historical values of Europe.”
Latvia – a small country with an estimated population of two million - agreed to accept 776 refugees over the next two years as part of the European Union’s efforts to resettle refugees.
This week, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls sparked outrage for announcing plans to prohibit the wear of all forms of Muslim headscarves in universities.
Feminist groups reacted to the plans by organising a “niqab day” at a political sciences institute in Paris. Dozens of students wore veils handed out by the protesters at Sciences Po, to highlight discrimination faced by Muslim women.
There are thought to be around 1,000 practicing Muslims living in Latvia.
Speaking about the proposed ban, former Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga said that those wearing a niqab or burqa “at a time of terrorism” presented a “danger to society”.
“Anybody could be under a veil or under a burqa,” she said. “You could carry a rocket launcher under your veil. It’s not funny.”
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