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Switzerland moves towards nationwide burqa ban as draft law approved in parliament

Proposals approved by just one vote after canton brings in own regional ban

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 28 September 2016 11:28 BST
Posters for the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which supports a ban on both mosque minarets and face coverings
Posters for the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which supports a ban on both mosque minarets and face coverings (Getty)

Switzerland has moved a step closer to imposing a nationwide burqa ban after politicians approved a draft bill by just one vote.

A new law proposed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) received 88 votes, with 87 against and 10 abstentions in the country’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday. But the plans remain far from coming into force after a previous proposal for a ban on Muslim veils that cover the face was voted down by state representatives at a commission in January.

 The proposed law would prohibit face-coverings including niqabs (pictured) and burqas 

Walter Wobmann, an SVP politician leading the campaign, claimed the law would “maintain public order and respect for the dignity of women”.

Known for his anti-immigration stance, he has previously said it was “unacceptable” for women to wear headscarves in passport photos and vowed to “stop further Islamisation in Switzerland” while supporting the 2009 ban on mosque minarets.

Writing in support of the “Yes to veil ban” campaign, Mr Wobmann claimed veils violate Swiss values and said the law would also prevent vandals and criminals concealing their identity.

“Veils are an attack on integration in a free society,” he continued. “The ban of religiously motivated coverings in public is proportionate and violates neither freedom of religion nor expression. It does not constitute discrimination.”

The proposed law would see paragraphs written into Switzerland’s federal constitution against the “concealing of one’s face” in public places, other than religious sites, with exceptions for health and safety, the climate and unspecified local customs.

The issue could now be decided by the Swiss Council of States or by a public vote, if supporters gain the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a referendum.

Even if the petition succeeds and the public gave a “yes” vote, the proposals would still need to be made into law through approval in parliament.

The Swiss canton of Ticino implemented its own regional burqa ban in July, beginning to enforce fines for wearing the burqa and niqab three years three years after the move was approved.

Only around 350,000 of Switzerland’s 8.3 million inhabitants are Muslim, but issues around religion and integration have become a key focus in recent months.

Muslim boys who refused to shake female teachers’ hands were recently threatened with fines of 5,000 Swiss francs (£4,000), while two young girls who did not take part in swimming lessons with boys were denied citizenship in June and a Muslim woman left her job as a supply teacher after being told she must shake hands with male colleagues.

Switzerland is one of several European countries currently debating similar issues, with burkini bans brought in by some French Riviera resorts provoking outrage.

France and Belgium enforce nationwide bans on full-face veils, while Germany and the Netherlands are considering similar laws. Regions of Italy, Spain, Russia and Switzerland also regulate religious attire.

A recent survey by YouGov found the British public supported a universal ban on Islamic veils by an overwhelming margin of more than two-to-one.

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