European bans on Islamic full-face veils

Paris - Switzerland is the latest European country to ban the niqab, the Islamic full-face veil that shows only the eyes.

Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed a ban on full face coverings in public places -- a decision hailed by supporters as a bulwark against radical Islam but branded as discriminatory by opponents.

Policies attempting to regulate or ban the niqab -- and the more extensive burqa covering -- have popped up in a handful of countries across Europe, with France enacting the first public ban in 2010.

Islamic dress

- Banned in public -

France's ban on face coverings was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, rejecting arguments that outlawing full-face veils breached religious freedom.

In France the law has resulted in around 1,600 arrests since it came into force. Violations can result in fines of up to 150 euros ($178).

Belgium followed suit in 2011, banning total face coverings in public generally with violations punishable by up to seven days in prison or a fine.

Bulgaria (2016), Austria (2017), and Denmark (2018) have all followed suit, with fines ranging from 102 euros for a first offence to over 1,300 euros for repeat offences.


- Partially banned -

Though it may be worn in the streets, the Netherlands in 2019 banned the full-face veil in educational and public institutions, hospitals and public transport, punishable by a 150 euro fine.

Norway bans staff wearing the full veil in schools and nurseries.


- Schools may ban -

The United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany have passed laws allowing schools or school districts -- and in the case of the UK, hospitals also -- to decide whether to ban the full-face veil.

But employers in Britain must have a "legitimate" health and safety or practical reason for doing so.

In Germany, civil servants and officials, including judges and soldiers, must also have their faces uncovered, and people can also be asked to remove coverings to check their identity papers.


- Italy's far-right -

A 1975 law aimed at protecting public order makes it illegal to cover the face in public but courts have systematically thrown out local moves to use the ban to outlaw the full-face veil.

Two regions held by the anti-immigrant Northern League -- Lombardy and Venetia -- have banned the burqa and full-face veil in hospitals and public places.

Spain recently overturned a ban on the full-face veil in public spaces imposed by cities in the region of Catalonia.