Switzerland to ban wearing of niqab and burqa in public places
A leading Swiss Islamic group said it was "a dark day" for Muslims.
Switzerland has narrowly voted in favor of banning face coverings in public, including the burka or niqab worn by Muslim women.
Official results showed the measure had passed by 51.2% to 48.8% in Sunday’s referendum.
The referendum comes after years of debate, and following similar bans in other European countries, such as France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
Switzerland operates on a system of direct democracy that has allowed the vote to go ahead.
Any topic can be put to a national vote as long as it gathers 100,000 signatures in the country of 8.6 million people.
The proposal was brought up by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which campaigned with slogans such as “Stop extremism.”
According to research by the University of Lucerne (in German), almost no-one in Switzerland wears a burka, and only around 30 women wear the niqab.
Around 5% of Switzerland’s population are Muslim, most originating from Turkey, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
Switzerland’s parliament and the seven-member executive council that constitutes the country’s federal government opposed the referendum proposal.
They argued that full facial veils represented a “fringe phenomenon.”
Instead, they proposed an initiative that would force people to lift their facial coverings when asked to confirm their identity to officials.
A leading Swiss Islamic group said it was “a dark day” for Muslims.
“Today’s decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority,” the Central Council of Muslims said in a statement.
The council also said it would challenge the decision in court.
“This symbolic policy is directed against female and male Muslims,” said the Swiss Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organisations in a statement.
“But it also damages the whole of Switzerland, which has undermined its values by accepting the initiative.”
An alliance of hoteliers and tourism professionals from the Berne and Geneva regions also opposed the ban because it would reduce the number of visitors from Arab countries.
“A burqa ban would damage our reputation as an open and tolerant tourism destination,” said Nicole Brändle Schlegel of the HotellerieSuisse umbrella organization.
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