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Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
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France's face veil ban takes effect today
A controversial ban on facial veils has come into effect in France today, despite protests by interest groups that the ban violates European human rights law.

A CONTROVERSIAL BAN on face veils will come into effect in France today, with women wearing certain face coverings in public places risking fines of €150 and being obliged to attend a “citizenship” course.

The ban will apply to Islamic dress such as the burqa (a full body covering which leaves a mesh for the eyes) or the niqab ( a full facial veil). Forms of religious, cultural or fashionable dress that do not cover the face will still be allowed under law: “The ban does not target the wearing of a headscarf, head-gear, scarf or glasses, as long as the accessories do not prevent the person from being identified,” said the country’s Interior Ministry in a statement.

The law, which is aimed at reaffirming France’s “secular values” according President Nicolas Sarkozy, will apply only to public places and not apply in a person’s home, a mosque, or a private car.

Although France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, only a fraction of France’s five-million-strong Muslim population – fewer than 2,000 women – are expected to be affected by the ban.

Not all Muslim women wear the veil, as some believe that it is a religious duty while others feel it is a cultural construct, however fears have been voiced that the new law will be interpreted by the wider Islamic community as an general attack on a minority group. Although the government has insisted the ban is not aimed squarely at Muslims, it has nevertheless had to go to lengths to ensure that other forms of facial coverings will not be affected by the ban – for example motorcycle helmets, bandages, fencing masks, welding masks and even fancy dress masks.

Sarkozy’s sternest critics have suggested he is cynically indulging the country’s resurgent far-right by stirring up anti-Muslim prejudice as an election ploy. Other members of Sarkozy’s conservative cabinet have done little to garner an impression of tolerance – with interior minister Claude Guéant bluntly describing the growing numbers of followers of Islam as a “problem” ahead of a controversial debate on the religion’s place in France last week.

However, the government is standing firm on the issue, CNN reports. When the proposal was put to the parliament last year, the government stated that to “ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place”. The ban passed with a near unanimous decision.

A harsher provision will be included for anyone forcing a woman to wear a veil: fines of €30,000 and a year’s imprisonment will apply to those making an adult wear a burqa or niqab – while those forcing a minor to do so can be fined €60,000 and face two years in jail.

Security forces will not have the right to physically remove a veil from a woman’s face.

Amnesty International has condemned the banning of Islamic face veils, saying that such laws violate European human rights law. Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s Interim Secretary General said that while governments ought to do everything to ensure that a woman is not being forced to wear a veil, “a general ban on the wearing of full face veils would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who choose to express their identity or beliefs in this way”.

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