A new federal law banning face-covering garments replaces local legislation in 15 Swiss cantons. From now on, anyone covering their face in Switzerland risks fines of up to 1,000 Swiss francs. The ban applies in public places and in private buildings accessible to the public.

Socialist and green reservations

The lower house of the Swiss parliament voted on Wednesday to ban face-covering garments. The ban includes burkas worn by Muslim women. 

The bill, which had already been approved by the upper house, was put forward by the national conservative Swiss People’s Party and received significant support by 151 votes to 29 – despite socialist and green reservations.

The proposal follows a referendum two years ago when 51.2 per cent of Swiss voted in favour of a ban on the niqab (face veil with eye slit) and burqa, as well as the bandana, which is used to cover the face during riots, demonstrations and old-fashioned bank robberies. 

With the approval of the lower house of parliament, the ban is now federal law and is accompanied by fines of up to 1,000 Swiss francs.

– Reflects anti-Muslim attitudes

A Muslim women’s group calling itself Purple Headscarves claims that “there are only 30 women wearing burkas in Switzerland”. Switzerland’s Islamic Central Council believes the vote reflects the spread of anti-Muslim attitudes in the country.

The ban includes covering the nose, mouth and eyes in such a way that the facial features cannot be recognised and applies in public spaces and private buildings accessible to the public – with few exceptions. 

Several European countries ban masking

The legislation harmonises with similar legislation in Belgium and France, which banned the public wearing of the burqa in 2011. Bulgaria followed suit in 2016. The following year, the burqa was banned in Austria, and since 2018, face coverings have also been banned in Denmark. 82 per cent of the French population voted in favour of the burqa ban. The majority of Muslims in France were also in favour of the ban.

This is the second legislative change affecting the Muslim community in Switzerland. In 2009, they banned the construction of new minarets.

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