Austrian burqa ban enforced
Muslim women in Austria have been forced by police to remove veils as an anti-burqa law came into effect at the weekend.
The ban prohibits facial coverings, including niqabs and burqas, and restricts surgical masks, ski masks and clown make-up in public.
While the ban applies to secular facial covering, it is perceived to be targeting face covering worn by some Muslim women.
Of approximately nine million Austrians, an estimated 100 to 150 Muslim women wear the face veil while there are around 700,000 Muslims in the mountainous country.
Full veils are rare in Austria but they have become a target for right-wing groups and political parties ahead of the October 15 election.
The measures, similar to those in France, also apply to the many Arab visitors to the Alpine country.
Violators may face a fine of up to US$180.
Other new measures mean migrants must sign an “integration contract” and compulsory courses in the German language and Austrian “values”. Austria also banned the distribution of the Quran.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated her support for a similar burqa law, saying: “Our law takes precedence over codes of honour, tribal or family rules, and over sharia law.”
In February, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz called for camps to be set up in North Africa for refugees who fled to Europe and the government has told the European Union that it would no longer accept any refugees,
Muslim groups in Austria have criticised the directive. Carla Amina Bhagajati of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria said the “handful” of veiled women she knew in Vienna were “now are criminalised and… restricted to their homes”.
“They believe that they are ‘freeing these women’ and that they’re taking action to secure the identity of Austria, but this is hypocritical as the idea of an open society is that everybody has the liberty to act and dress as they please as long as nobody else is harmed,” she told Al Jazeera.
On passing the legislation, the government said: “Acceptance and respect of Austrian values are basic conditions for successful cohabitation between the majority Austrian population and people from third countries living in Austria.”
Vienna says the law safeguards Austrian values and the concept of a free society.
The Austrian general election is due on October 15 with anti-immigrant parties predicted to win and form a coalition government.
Austria has mainly had centrist governments since the Second World War.
The election is expected to see the right-wing Freedom Party come second or third.
Protesters gather to oppose the burqa ban. Picture credit: YouTube