Voters support ban on face coverings in public

23
Geneva

Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed a ban on full face coverings in public places — a decision hailed by supporters but branded as discriminatory by opponents.

Official results showed that 51.2 per cent of voters, and a clear majority of federal Switzerland’s cantons, supported the proposal.

The so-called anti-burqa vote came after years of debate in Switzerland following similar bans in other European countries despite women in full-face veils being a rare sight in Swiss streets.

Some 1,426,992 voters were in favour of the ban, while 1,359,621 were against, on a 50.8 per cent turnout.

The proposal “Yes to a ban on full facial coverings” did not explicitly mention the burqa or niqab.

The ban will mean that nobody can cover their face completely in public — whether in shops or the open countryside.

But there will be exceptions, including for places of worship, and for health and safety reasons.

The vote came at a time when face masks are mandatory in shops and on public transport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Within Europe, Switzerland’s neighbours France and Austria have banned full face coverings, as have Belgium, Bulgaria and Denmark.

Several other European countries have bans for particular contexts, such as in schools and universities.

The Swiss government and parliament had opposed a nationwide ban. The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland said the ban was “a great disappointment for Muslims”.

The ICCS said Islamophobia was now anchored in the Swiss constitution and said it would pay any fines incurred for wearing the niqab as long as it had the resources.

Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, any topic can be put to a national vote as long as it gathers 100,000 signatures in the wealthy country of 8.6 million people. Such votes take place every three months.—AFP