Austria to ban full-face veils in public
The niqab and burqa are under fire across Europe. Source: Pixabay
Austria says it is planning to ban the Islamic full-face veils in courts, schools and other public places.
The prohibition will apply to the niqab and burqa, the normally black full-face or face-and-body covering worn by some Muslim women.
It comes as part of a package of measures from the governing coalition to counter the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which has topped opinion polls for several months.
Around 150 women wear the full niqab in Austria but tourism ministry sources fear the measures will deter visitors from the Gulf and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Vienna has also promised to restrict eastern European workers’ access to the labour market.
The anti-Islamic FPO’s popularity has been boosted by the influx of more than a million migrants into Europe in the past two years and fears over their impact on jobs and security. In December the FPO candidate came close to winning the presidency.
With parliamentary elections due in 2018, Chancellor Christian Kern of the Social Democratic Party will revitalise the eight-month-old coalition widely seen as ineffective.
“We believe in an open society that is also based on open communication. Full-body veils in public spaces stand against that and will therefore be prohibited,” the government said.
Mainly Catholic Austria has a population of 8.7 million of whom around 600,000 are Muslim. The right-of-centre People’s Party, the junior coalition’s member, has obtained tougher measures on security, including the electronic tagging of ex-jihadists.
The country’s coalition also agreed to prohibit police officers, judges, magistrates and public prosecutors from wearing headscarves so as to appear “ideologically and religiously neutral” while at work.
“We agreed that we must work faster and more clearly,” the People’s Party Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner told a press conference with Kern. “It is now up to us to do what governing parties do, namely implement the programme.”
The French parliament passed a similar act more than six years ago as the first EU country to ban the niqab and burqa in public.
Belgium and some parts of Switzerland followed and similar bans have been considered elsewhere in Europe, notably the Netherlands.
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes uncovered. It may be worn with a separate eye veil and is worn with an accompanying headscarf.
The burka, the most concealing of all Islamic veils, is a one-piece veil that covers the face and body, often leaving just a mesh screen to look through.