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Switzerland parliament approves burqa ban

Lower chamber passes legislation banning face coverings, with fines of $1100 for violators
A woman holds a sign that reads, 'Muslim woman decolonize' during a protest following a referendum to ban full facial coverings in public places in Bern, Switzerland on 7 March 2021 (AFP)
A woman holds sign reading 'Muslim woman decolonise' at a protest following a referendum to ban full facial coverings in public, Bern, Switzerland, 7 March 2021 (AFP)

Switzerland's parliament has approved a ban on face coverings in legislation thought to be targeting Muslim women wearing burqas and niqabs. 

The country's lower parliamentary chamber voted overwhelmingly in favour of the bill on Wednesday, which was passed with 151 votes in favour and 29 against.

The upper chamber had previously approved the ban, which was strongly supported by the right-wing Swiss People's Party. 

It prohibits the covering of the nose, mouth and eyes in public places, as well as private buildings that can be accessed by the public. 

The ban will now become federal law, and those who violate it will be fined 1,000 Swiss francs ($1,114). 

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Two years ago, Switzerland narrowly voted in a referendum to endorse a public ban on niqabs, burqas, ski masks and bandanas worn by protesters. Over 51 percent voted in favour, while nearly 49 percent voted against it. 

The new law has a number of exceptions, including for indigenous customs, religious services, theatrical performances and face coverings for health and climate reasons. 

It now brings Switzerland in line with several other European countries that have banned the burqa in some form, including France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands. 

In 2009, in another policy focused on the Muslim community, Switzerland prohibited the construction of new mosque minarets, the towers traditionally built to project calls to prayer, after a campaign led by right-wing parties.

A study in 2021 by the University of Lucerne put the number of women in Switzerland who wore a niqab at between 21 and 37 and found no evidence at all of any women wearing the burqa.

Muslims make up around five percent of the Swiss population of 8.6 million, or about 390,000 people, most of whom have their roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo. 

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