Bern: The people of Switzerland on Sunday fully supported the ban of full facial coverings including the niqab and burqa in almost all public places. As many as 51.21 per cent of voters voted in support of the controversial proposal in the referendum, brought by a far-right party.
The so-called anti-burqa vote in Switzerland came after decades of debate through out the Europe, with France becoming the first country in Europe to ban burqas and niqabs in public places in 2011. The ban was upheld by European Court of Human Rights in 2014.
According to reports, the approval by voters means that facial covering will be banned in all publicly accessible places, including on the streets, in public offices, on public transport, in restaurants, shops and in the countryside. While, places where the full facial coverings will be allowed include places of worship, for “ native customs”, such as carnival. Besides, it will be allowed for health and safety reasons like face masks worn because of the Covid-19 pandemic will not be affected by the new law.
Furthermore, there will be no additional exceptions, for example for tourists, according to the proposal by the Swiss federal government.
On the other hand, Muslim groups have criticised the ban. “This is clearly an attack against the Muslim community in Switzerland. What is aimed here is to stigmatise and marginalise Muslims even more,” said Ines Al Shikh, a member of Les Foulards Violets, a Muslim feminist collective.
“This symbolic policy is directed against female and male Muslims,” said the Swiss Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organisations in a statement adding, “But it also damages the whole of Switzerland, which has undermined its own values by accepting the initiative.”
The proposal reportedly put forward by Switzerland’s parliament and the seven-member executive council including the right-wing Swiss People’s Party that constitutes the country’s federal government, does not mention Islam specifically but has been widely referred to as the “burqa ban” in Swiss media. However, they argued that full facial veils represented a “fringe phenomenon”, and instead proposed an initiative that would force people to lift their facial coverings when asked to confirm their identity to officials.
The proposal has been widely criticised, especially by the Swiss religious organizations, human rights and civic groups and the federal government.
According to the Swiss Council of Religions, which represents all major religious communities in Switzerland, has stated the human right to religious freedom also protects religious practices such as dress codes.
The Swiss Federal Council also the country’s federal government, and the Swiss Parliament too rejected the initiative as going too far and advised people to vote against it.
Meanwhile, twelve years ago another controversial referendum had come that outlawed the construction of minarets in Switzerland.