Swiss region bans face veil in referendum


Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS - CCIS) member Nora Illi, one of the few Swiss women wearing the niqab, distributes flyers against a cantonal vote on banning face-covering headgear in public places, on September 18, 2013 in Lugano.


Fabrice Coffrini

GENEVA, Switzerland — Swiss voters in the Italian-speaking region of Ticino have backed a controversial plan to ban full face veils.

Sixty-five percent of voters backed the proposal to outlaw covering one's face in public — draft legislation clearly aimed at Muslim women who wear the niqab or the burqa.

It states: "No one may mask or hide their face on the public highway, nor in places open to the public, except places of worship, nor those offering a public service."

The ban, modeled after a similar law in France, also states: "No one may require another person to cover their face for reasons of gender."

The ban is a first in any of Switzerland's cantons and will be added to Ticino's constitution.

Giorgio Ghiringhelli, the campaigner who created the proposal, said it was aimed at "Islamist fundamentalists."

"Those who want to integrate are welcome irrespective of their religion," he reportedly wrote online.

"But those who rebuff our values and aim to build a parallel society based on religious laws, and want to place it over our society, are not welcome."

However, the proposal still requires approval by Switzerland's federal parliament and must be judged constitutional.

Amnesty International, a human rights group, condemned the legislation.

"Fear, and the creation of a problem where there isn’t one, have beaten reason and respect, to the detriment of the basic rights of the entire population," wrote the organization.

Few women in Switzerland wear the niqab. There are about 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland — about 5 percent of the population.

Switzerland has been in the headlines for the last few years for ballot initiatives targeting minority populations, particularly Muslims.

A proposal to ban burqas nationwide was rejected by Swiss Parliament in 2012. In 2009, a national vote sought to block the building of minarets in the country.