Switzerland to hold referendum on whether to ban burqa after successful far-right petition

Ballot put on the table after campaign by groups including Swiss Peoples Party

Jeff Farrell
Sunday 15 October 2017 15:16 BST
A woman wears a full-face Muslim veil - a garment to which far right groups oppose
A woman wears a full-face Muslim veil - a garment to which far right groups oppose (Getty)

Voters in Switzerland will decide whether to ban Muslim face veils including the burqa after a campaign by far-right groups to outlaw the garment which they say undermine the "dignity of women".

The public will get a chance to have its say in a referendum expected to be rolled out next year in the country where less than 5 per cent are Islamic in the largely Christian nation.

It was tabled after extremists gathered 100,000 signatures for the ballot, forcing officials to react under a rule in the country where voters decide the agenda in a system known as direct democracy.

If the measure goes through, Switzerland would follow suit with other countries in Europe including France and Austria which have cracked down on full-face veils.

The measure was proposed by a group including MPs from the nationalist Swiss People's Party (SVP) that was also behind a ban on building minarets in Switzerland.

It came after the Italian-speaking Swiss region of Ticino brought in a ban last year, and offenders can be fined thousands of pounds for flouting the rule.

Officials brought in the policy in the Catholic area after a poll found that some 65 per cent of people supported a ban.

Walter Wobmann, an SVP politician campaigning for a country-wide ban, claimed in recent months that a crackdown would “maintain public order and respect for the dignity of women”.

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

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.

France and Belgium already enforce a bans on full-face veils, while Germany and the Netherlands are considering similar laws. Regions of Italy, Spain and Russia 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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