“Burqa-ban”: Amid criticism, Austria imposes ban on full-face veils

The law, also known as the “Burqa ban”, was imposed ahead of a general election in Austria on October 15, which is expected to be dominated by the country’s far-right Freedom party.

Even as several activists and experts termed the government’s directive as “counterproductive” and “Attack on religious freedom”, Austria has now passed a law forbidding any kind of full-face covering.  The law also gets implied on Muslim women’s age-old tradition to cover their faces with niqab or burqa.

The law, also known as the “Burqa ban”, was imposed ahead of a general election in Austria on October 15, which is expected to be dominated by the country’s far-right Freedom party. To be on effect from Sunday, the law also prohibits wearing of a ski mask off the slopes, a surgical mask outside hospitals and party masks in public places.

The law apparently brings in a direct attack on the dressing of a section of conservative Muslim women in the country who wear a burqa. Though, only about 100-150 Muslim women or an estimate 0.002 percent of them wear the face veil. Among an estimate of nine million citizens in the country only a minority of 7, 00,000 are Muslims in the country.

Violations of the law will further impose a fine of up to $180 and the police are even allowed to use force if people deny showing their faces. While the government officials claimed that the law, termed as “Prohibition on the Covering of the Face”, is religiously neutral, experts and activists took a bitter tone, describing the law as “counterproductive” and “Islamobhobic”.

Carla Amina Baghajati, a rights activist and spokeswoman for the Austrian Islamic Religious Authority told Al Jazeera, “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. These ladies are being criminalized. Everybody thinks that they are victims, but you cannot be patronizing them. They say that they do not want to be freed because they are already free and chose to wear the face veil.”

Similar laws, prohibiting full-face veils are already in effect in France and Belgium and the nationalist Alternative for Germany have also been seeking for it.

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