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Denmark bans full-face veils

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Reuters

Denmark has passed a ban on full-face veils, becoming the latest in a number of EU countries, including France, to pass such a ban, which mainly affects Muslim women wearing a niqab or burka.


Thelegislation was passed by 75 votes to 30 in the Danish parliament on Thursday and will come into force on 1 August. Those violating the ban will be forced to pay 1,000 kroner (134 euros), with fines 10 times higher for repeat offenders.

Like France's 2011 law, the wording of the new ban does not specifically mention Muslim women but it specifies that "anyone who wears a garment that hides the face in public will be punished with a fine".

The legislation does allow people to cover their face when there is a “recognisable purpose” such as cold weather or complying with other legal requirements, for example using motorcycle helmets under Danish traffic rules.

This is not the first time the Danish parliament has tried to implement the ban.

There was an initial attempt in 2009 when the government conducted thorough research on the issue to gauge public opinion.

“There are probably no more than a handful of women in all of Denmark who actually wear burkas," says Margit Warburg, a professor of sociology of religion at the University of Copenhagen who was part of the original survey team into people wearing veils in Denmark.

The survey discovered that only 150 women regularly wore niqabs and th did not find any women at that time wearing burkas.

"What was also interesting was that half of the women who wore niqabs were actually Danish converts, which means that they were born and raised in Denmark," Warburg comments. "They made their own choice to wear veils, their fathers did not force them to, which is the key argument made by parliament for banning the veils.”

Existing legislation

There are already provisions in Danish legislation to prevent women being forced to wear anything by husbands or family members.

"Denmark already has very strict leglisation in place to ensure that women are not forced to wear, for example, the niqab, and it can carry a penalty of up to four years," Dan Hindgaul, head of Policy and Communications at Amnesty Denmark/ "Our position is crystal clear: we want women to decide for themselves. It shouldn't be the state that decides and it shouldn't be their husbands."

According to recent surveys, the Danish people support the ban now, with almost two-thirds of the population endorsing it.

"I don't think this is so much about the Danish people being afraid of Muslims, but rather the Danish politicians being afraid of voters,"said Professor Brian Jacobsen of the University of Copenhagen. "The politicans have to show a will to marginalise Islamic practice in Danish society to demonstrate that they want to protect Danish cultural heritage. This is a way to take on the far right politics, to make some concessions."

France first to ban

France was the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public places, passing its law in April 2011, seven years after the passing another law prohibiting conspicuous religious symbols in state schools.

To read about the background to France's burka ban click here

It was followed a few months later by Belgium, which outlawed any clothing that obscures a person's identity in a public place.

Full or partial bans have since been passed in Austria, Bulgaria and the southern German state of Bavaria, with the Dutch parliament agreeing a ban in late 2016, pending approval from the country's higher chamber.

This appears to be the first step in Denmark's targeting its small Muslim population with legislation. The next issue on the table is the possible banning of the practice of circumcision.

“A large part of the Danish people want to ban circumcision.” said Jacobsen. “There will be a discussion about this in parliament next and many of the parties have said that they will not take a party line on this, so members are free to vote as they want. I expect there will be some surprises in this discussion.”