By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe
STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights upheld a Belgian ban on wearing full-face religious veils in public.
The ban was implemented by the Belgian government in 2011. The full-face coverings, including the niqab and burqa, is religious headwear worn by women of the Islamic faith. Burqas cover the entire face, including the eyes, while niqabs leave the eyes open.
Punishment for wearing these veils in public are as minor as fines, to more serious jail time.
The ECHR held that the ban was not a violation of religious freedom.
It was said that the Belgian government has the right to impose restrictions that “protect the rights and freedoms of others.” They also stated that the ban was “necessary in a democratic society.”
The debate about Muslim face coverings has raged for several years. Multiple European countries have imposed or proposed a similar ban to the one in Belgium. The most recent was in Norway, where discussions began about banning full-face veils in June.
Proponents of the ban argue that it is actually conducive to women’s freedom, rather than restrictive of it. One Belgian policymaker, Daniel Bacquelaine, said that “[forbidding] the veil as a covering is to give them more freedom.” He added, “if we want to live together in a free society, we need to recognize each other.”
It is true that many women in predominantly Muslim countries do not have a choice in wearing head coverings. Saudi Arabia and Iran both require by law that women have their heads covered in public.
Yet many Muslim women in western countries have expressed that they choose to wear head coverings on their own free will. Two of these include the women who brought the Belgian ban to the ECHR.
One of the women did not leave the house for fear of breaking the law for wearing her head covering. The other took off her veil in public.
More European countries have begun support for partial or complete bans on full-face veils.
The decision by the Court can be appealed. There will be three months to bring an appeal to the higher level, where five judges will determine whether there should be a second look at the decision.
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