Austria has become the latest country to ban women from wearing a burka or niqab. If caught wearing either prohibited garments or covering your face, violators can face a fine of up to £132. The Austrian government says that the law ‘safeguards Austrian values and the concept of a free society.’
The law, which came into action on Sunday, has been condemned by activists who have described it as an attack on religious freedom as well as ‘Islamophobic.
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As well as Islamic garments, the law also bans ski masks, balaclavas and clown masks. The inclusion of non-religious items has been seen as a method to avoid being dubbed 'Islamophobic' in an attempt to instead be portrayed as 'religiously-neutral'. On top of facing a fine, people trying to enter the country with their face covered will be turned away at border control. Muslims make up around 7% of the Austrian population and the ban is expected to affect approximately 150 women.
The country's new law has come into action just two weeks before the Austrian election, which many are predicting could end in a coalition between the right-wing Freedom Party and the Austrian People’s Party led by Austria’s current Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz. Kurz is ‘expected to gain around a third of the vote with his tough rhetoric on fighting immigration and Islamic "parallel societies”’.
With the Austrian election set to end in a coalition made up of far-right nationalists and a centre-right Foreign Minister, the burqa ban could just be the beginning of a radical new attempt to crack down on immigration. Despite the predicted rise of the far-right, protests against the law took place in the Austrian capital city of Vienna where over 300 people demonstrated their dislike towards the ban by covering their face with masks, scarves and costumes.
Several other countries have also adopted similar rules in regards to burqas and niqabs. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has previously voiced her support for a similar law in Germany, saying: 'Our law takes precedence over codes of honour, tribal or family rules, and over sharia law.'
The law also requires any immigrants to sign an ‘integration contract’ and participate in compulsory courses that teach the German language and educate on ‘Austrian values’.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.