Bulgaria’s parliament has approved a law banning face veils in public, in response to growing fears of radical Islamic terrorism across Europe.
The law, approved on Sept. 30, prohibits wearing clothing that partially or completely covers the face in public, according to Reuters. The face veil ban extends to government offices, places of public recreation, and educational and cultural institutions, excluding instances when it must be worn for health or professional reasons.
The ban, which will be enforced for Bulgarian citizens and those entering the country temporarily, will also apply to houses of worship, which could potentially cause a stir among Bulgaria’s Muslim minority, Daily Mail reports. Those who do not comply with the ban can face fines up to $860 and be stripped of social privileges.
The Muslim community, mostly represented by ethnic Turks, makes up almost 12 percent of Bulgaria’s population of 7.2 million, and Muslim women in the country traditionally wear scarves to cover their hair. However, a small faction of Bulgaria’s Roma community have started to wear burqas and niqabs to cover their faces, according to Reuters, which may have triggered the ban.
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Human rights organization Amnesty International has associated the ban with a trend of intolerance and racism towards the Muslim community in Bulgaria of violating women’s rights to freedom of expression and religion.
"Women in Bulgaria should be free to dress as they please and to wear the burqa or the niqab as an expression of their identity or beliefs," Amnesty International’s Europe director John Dalhuisen said. "Legitimate security concerns can be met with targeted restrictions on the complete covering of the face in well-defined high risk locations and not through a blanket discriminatory ban such as this."
Members of Bulgaria’s Movement for Rights and Freedoms party shared similar resentment for the ban, and walked out of parliament in protest, the International Business Times reports.
Anti-muslim rhetoric has increased in Europe during the past several years, as the refugee crisis and acts of terror by Islamic State extremists have impacted the region. Bulgaria’s ban takes cues from western European countries including France, Switzerland and Belgium, that have banned similar Islamic face veils such as the burqa and niqab in response to perceived national security threats.
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“The law is not directed against religious communities and is not repressive,” senior lawmaker of the GERB party Krasimir Velchev said, according to Reuters. “We made a very good law for the safety of our children.”