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Switzerland Approves 'Burqa Ban' To Prohibit Some Face Coverings In Public

A poster in Lausanne, Switzerland, reads "Stop extremism!" The Swiss passed a new ban on facial coverings in public in a narrow 51.2% majority vote Sunday.
Fabrice Coffrini
AFP via Getty Images
A poster in Lausanne, Switzerland, reads "Stop extremism!" The Swiss passed a new ban on facial coverings in public in a narrow 51.2% majority vote Sunday.

Swiss voters approved a proposition Sunday banning facial coverings in public. Niqabs and burqas, worn by almost no one even among the country's Muslim population, will be banned outside of religious institutions. The new law doesn't apply to facial coverings for health reasons.

Switzerland will join several European countries that have implemented a ban on facial coverings, including France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria.

The new legislation was brought to the ballot through a people's initiative launched by the nation's right-wing Egerkingen Committee, the same group that led the charge to ban minarets over a decade ago, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation reported. In 2017, the group presented over 100,000 signatures to the government and demanded the issue be brought to a national vote.

The Swiss government opposed the nationwide initiative as excessive and argued such bans should be decided by individual regions, two of which already have a "burqa ban" in place.

The ban barely passed a majority vote, with 51.2% of the Swiss voting in support of the proposal. Only six of the country's cantons, similar to states, voted against the proposition, according to the SBC.

One of the largest backers of the initiative was the nationalist Swiss People's Party, which applauded the outcome of the vote and called the new measure "A strong symbol in the fight against radical political Islam."

"The burqa creates a barrier between the person wearing it and the environment and thus prevents integration into society," Swiss People's Party President Marco Chiesa said in a statement.

Some feminist groups and progressive Muslims reportedly were supporters of the initiative, arguing that full face coverings are oppressive to women.

Other groups felt the new restriction was Islamophobic and that women should not be told what to wear.

The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland said the results were "Islamophobically motivated."

"Today's decision is tearing open old wounds, expanding the principle of legal inequality and sending a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority," the group wrote.

Researchers found that at most a few dozen Muslim women wear full face coverings in Switzerland. About 5% of Switzerland's population of 8.6 million is Muslim, the BBC reported.

Swiss authorities now have two years to draft the legislation, according to The Associated Press.

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Dustin Jones
Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.