27th May 2019

Belgium moves towards banning the burka

  • Belgian lawmakers say Muslim women should not cover their face (Photo: superblinkymac)

Belgium may be the first European country to ban the full-covering Islamic veils from being worn in public, after a key-parliamentary committee on Wednesday (31 March) voted in favour of the move.

The Belgian parliament's home affairs unanimously backed a proposal to ban the so-called burka and niqab, two forms of the Muslim veil covering the entire body and face. If the law is enacted, women who wear this in public would be fined 15-25 euros and may face a jail sentence of up to seven days.

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Lawmakers argued that all persons should be identifiable and not cover their faces unless their work requires it or if police approved carnivals and other festivities where people can wear masks.

Several districts of Belgium have already banned the burka in public places, based on the same line of reasoning.

Centre-right MP Corinne De Permentier, speaker of the parliament's lower chamber said this ban would "liberate the woman from a burden", while "insisting on the respect of public security," La Libre Belgique reports.

Other lawmakers said the move would "send a strong signal to Islamists," as this form of veil is usually worn in the most radical of the Muslim communities, for instance during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

But Isabelle Praile, vice-president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, said the law would breach the women's fundamental rights and freedom of choice and could actually aggravate the situation for those women who are forced to wear it.

"I am against imposing such clothing on women, but also against banning them. I know women who decided themselves to wear the full veil. And if it was imposed upon them, a ban won't change anything, on the contrary, it will confine them to the house and they will be completely invisible," she was quoted as saying by Belga newswire.

If the plenary also endorses the draft bill in the coming months, Belgium would be the first European country to ban the full-body veil.

France has also been eyeing a similar move, but its top advisory body on constitutional matters on Wednesday said it would infringe with the country's main law.

"It appears to the State Council that a general and absolute ban on the full veil as such can have no incontestable judicial basis," it said. However, rules requiring faces to be uncovered in public places such as schools, hospitals and law courts could be justified for security reasons, the council said.

Prime Minster Francois Fillon asked for legal advice before drawing up a law on the subject, but he is not bound to follow it. In January, a French parliamentary committee recommended a partial ban on Islamic face veils that could be imposed in hospitals, schools, government offices and on public transport.

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