It was just a few weeks ago that burkinis were banned from some French beaches – and now another piece of modesty dress has been forbidden in a European country.
Bulgaria has outlawed the burqa – the full face-covering veil worn by many Muslim women – and is imposing a hefty fine on those who break the new rules.
Women who flout the law will face a penalty of up to €770 (Dhs3,180), and have their social security benefits temporarily suspended.
The punishment is far greater than in other countries, including France – the first European country to ban the burqa. There, a clampdown on students in state-run schools began in 2004, and the law came into full effect in April 2011. Anyone caught wearing the burqa or niqab is fined €150 (Dhs749).
However Belgium, which introduced a similar ban shortly after France, goes even further – anyone caught wearing the veil risks being jailed for up to seven days and fined €1,378 (Dhs5,685).
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Bulgaria’s new legislation was backed by the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, and approved by the country’s parliament.
The aim of the ban, according to Patriotic Front co-leader Krasimir Karakachanov, was to improve security as “the burqa is more a uniform than a religious symbol”.
According to Bulgaria’s new law, clothing concealing the face may not be worn in government offices, schools, cultural institutions and places of public recreation.
“The law is not directed against religious communities and is not repressive,” said Krasimir Velchev, of the ruling centre-right party, GERB. “We made a very good law for the safety of our children.”
So controversial was the movement, that the party that opposed the new law exited the parliamentary chamber in a show of defiance, and refused to vote.
Amnesty International also protested the legislation, saying it showed “a disturbing trend of intolerance, xenophobia and racism in Bulgaria”.
“Women in Bulgaria should be free to dress as they please and to wear the burqa or the niqab as an expression of their identity or beliefs. This ban violates their rights to freedom of expression and religion,” the organisation’s Europe director, John Dalhuisen, said in a statement.
“Legitimate security concerns can be met with targeted restrictions on the complete covering of the face in well-defined high-risk locations and not through a blanket discriminatory ban such as this.”
The ban will apply to both Bulgarian citizens and temporary visitors or tourists, The Express reported.