Bulgaria has passed a new bill banning clothing that covers the wearer's face, becoming the latest European country to outlaw the Muslim face veil.
In a vote of 108 to 8 in favor of the bill, which was proposed by the conservative Patriotic Front party, Bulgaria has become the latest in a string of European countries to ban the burqa and niqab, traditionally worn by Muslim women, according to the Daily Mail.
The new rule restricts women from wearing the veil in all government institutions, including educational and social service locations, as well as in sites for public leisure. Similar laws have passed in France, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as Barcelona, Spain.
The national veil ban comes at a time when many Bulgarians fear the influx of refugees to Europe may threaten the country's majority Orthodox Christian culture. Some also fear that immigrants may spark radicalism among the country's centuries-old Muslim minority, made up of ethnic Roma, Turks and Pomaks.
While most Muslims in the country, who make up about 10 percent of Bulgaria's population, do not wear the face veil, some Roma women who practice a conservative form of Islam have begun wearing full face veils in the past few years, which has caused outrage among nationalist groups like the Patriotic Front.
In April, the local government of Pazardzhik, a town in central Bulgaria, placed a local ban on full-face veils, saying the restriction would prevent tension between religious groups and improve security in the town, according to Al Jazeera.
Almost all of the women spotted wearing the full-face veils in Pazardzhik were part of a small Salafist community, who practice an ultra-conservative form of Islam. One of that community's preachers, Ahmed Musa, was the subject of media attention after being put on trial three times for spreading "religious hatred," according to the BBC.
Ramiz Sali, who was formerly the head of the Muslim board in Pazardzhik, said that the veil ban missed the real problems facing the Roma community in the town, which were high rates of unemployment and illiteracy.
"What terrorism are they talking about when half of the Roma neighborhood are scavenging rubbish containers?" said Sali.
Jalal Faik, secretary general of the grand mufti's office in Bulgaria, said that the veil ban was a way to scapegoat Muslims.
"The far-right populist pseudo-patriotic factions are seeking to gain dirty [political] dividends on the back of Muslims," said Faik, "which is dishonorable given the scale of Islamophobia across the world."