Australian Muslims face jail for refusing to remove veils

Muslims face jail for up to a year for refusing to remove their veils, or be fined $5,500, after police in New South Wales, Australia were granted wide powers to order women to remove their burqas.

Some of the world’s toughest burqa laws were announced in NSW on Monday, including the power for police force people to remove their face covering during routine traffic and license checks, if they are suspected of committing a crime or involved in terrorism offenses.

NSW Muslim organizations have largely welcomed the new laws, but civil libertarians have criticized the State government for giving police too much power.

Police previously had the power to ask women to remove veils during the investigation of serious offenses but did not have the power to force women to remove their veils when their cars were stopped for routine checks.

The NSW penalties are in line with some of the world's toughest burqa rules.

In France, where burqas are completely banned in public, women face fines of $202.

The chairman of the Islamic Council of NSW, Khaled Sukkarieh, told the Sydney Morning Herald that there was nothing in the Koran or the Hadith saying women should not remove facial coverings for identification if a crime was suspected.

''It's got to be done sensitively but we trust our police officers," he said.

The move comes after a furor was created when Muslim Carnita Matthews' refused to remove her niqab - a full-length covering - when her car was pulled over by police.

She later accused police of pulling the veil from her body.

NSW state premier Barry O'Farrell said the law applied to all types of face coverings from motor-cycle helmets to “a burqa, niqab, face veil.”

He said the aim of the law was assist police in identification.

“The police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear,” he said.

Other states in Australia are adopting a “wait and see” approach to the new laws.