Extremely observant Muslim women in Belgium are forbidden to wear the full face niqab veil in public places, the court affirmed Tuesday.
The European Court of Human Rights upheld a previously-legislated ban in June 2011 on the veil in Belgium that was challenged by two Muslim women, a Belgian national and a citizen of Morocco. Both told the court they wear the veil voluntarily, and that they believe the ban infringes on their civil rights, saying the law is discriminatory.
The Belgian ban on the niqab prohibits wearing the face veil “with a face masked or hidden in whole or in part, in such a way as to be unidentifiable.”
Violation of the ban is punishable by a fine and up to seven days in jail.
The Belgian woman reportedly continued to wear her veil in defiance of the ban for some time, according to AFP, but eventually stopped due to fears she would be fined, and social pressure. The Moroccan national decided to stay home, she told the court during the appeal hearing.
The court ruled, however, that the ban was in place as a “protection of the rights and freedoms of others” and said it was “necessary in a democratic society,” according to a statement to media.
The ban is not only in force in Belgium.
Beginning this October 1, Austrian police will fine women (and men) who are caught wearing clothing that obstructs their facial features, according to an article published in the Al Hayat newspaper this past May.
The Austrian ban on veils affects women wearing a burqa – the entire outer garment – and niqab – the face veil – in universities, courts, or on public transportation. Austria followed Switzerland, France and several regions in Spain on the issue, as well as Belgium.