Swiss lower house of parliament passes motion to ban full face veils

September 29, 2011

(A poster for the referendum against the construction of new minarets in Switzerland, in Zwillikon November 13, 2009/Dario Bianchi)

The lower house of Switzerland’s parliament has taken a first step towards banning full-face veils, voting in favour of a measure brought by the political party that spearheaded the 2009 campaign against building new minarets. The motion “Down with the masks”, proposed by SVP representative Oskar Freysinger, comes at a time of rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Switzerland, which holds national polls on Oct. 23.

It was approved on Wednesday by 101 parliamentarians to 77 with nine abstentions on Wednesday and now has to pass Swiss parliament’s upper chamber. If both houses approve the proposal, full-face veils, including Muslim burqas, could eventually be banned from government buildings or public transport.

By enacting a ban, Switzerland would follow other European countries such as France, the Netherlands and Belgium which have either already proscribed veils or are debating such measures, sometimes encountering sharp condemnation from civil rights and Islamic groups.

“This would be a discrimination against a religious group and would also mean that female tourists from the Arabian Gulf region can no longer take the train. That would have consequences for the tourist industry in Switzerland,” the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland said on its website. The Swiss region around lake Geneva is particularly popular with wealthy travellers from Arab countries.

Freysinger said in his proposal the ban on face coverings would improve security in public places.

The Swiss government had recommended in May that the proposal be rejected, saying it was up to the Swiss cantons to make sure Switzerland’s culture of dealing with others without covering one’s face was respected in public places. It also said current legislation already allowed for steps to be taken if a veiled person posed a security risk in a public building or on public transport.

by Silke Koltrowitz in Zurich


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