The Danish parliament passed a bill Thursday that outlaws garments that cover the face in public, which many see as a coded way of preventing women from wearing burqas and niqabs.
The ban, which goes into effect August 1, earned 75 votes in favor and 30 votes against. Penalties include 1,000 kroner ($156) for first time offenders, and 10,000 kroner ($1,568) for a fourth time offense. While new law states that “anyone who wears a garment that hides the face in public will be punished with a fine,” Danes will not be fined for publicly wearing protective masks, winter clothing, motorcycle helmets, or costume masks.
According to BBC, Danish Justice Minister Søren Pape Poulsen commented on the bill, saying, “We must be able to see each other, and we must also be able to see each other’s facial expressions, it’s a Danish value.”
Human rights activists are largely against the ban, contesting that it specifically targets Muslim women. “This blanket ban is neither necessary nor proportionate and violates the rights to freedom and expression of religion,” says Amnesty International’s Europe Director. “If the intention of this law was to protect women’s rights it fails abjectly. Instead, the law criminalizes women for their choice of clothing and in so doing flies in the face of those freedoms Denmark purports to uphold.” Proponents say that the veil represents female oppression and could be a security issue, and they’re also quick to point out that it does not prohibit hijabs, turbans, or the Jewish kippah.
Denmark is not the only European country to prohibit wearing burqas or niqabs in public. France, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Bavaria, and the Netherlands have all passed partial bans or similar legislation. In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Belgium’s ban on face veils did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.