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.