Bulgaria’s parliament has approved a nationwide law banning the wearing of face-covering veils from most public places.
The legislation, pushed by the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition and passed on Friday, echoes similar moves in a small number of European Union countries such as France, Netherlands and Belgium.
Hostility towards Muslims has grown in Bulgaria, a major gateway for refugees trying to reach Europe from Turkey, with human rights groups criticising the country for its harsh treatment of refugees.
The ban comes after Pazardzhik, in central Bulgaria, became in April the first town in the country to prohibit the wearing of full-face veils in public, in a move local officials claimed would prevent tension among communities and boost security.
Under the new law, full-face veils will be banned in public institutions, schools, areas of administrative and public services. Homes and places of worship are not included in the prohibition.
People who do not follow the ban face fines of up to 1,500 levs ($858) as well as suspension of social benefits.
Bulgaria’s mostly centuries-old Muslim community, dating back to Ottoman times, makes up around 13 percent of the population, mostly in the Turkish minority.
The legislation was approved despite opposition from the MDL Turkish minority party, which accused the other political forces of “sowing religious intolerance”.
The ruling centre-right party said the ban has nothing to do with religious outfits but only aimed at boosting national security and allowing better video surveillance.
“The law is not directed against religious communities and is not repressive,” Krasimir Velchev, a ruling GERB party MP, said. “We made a very good law for the safety of our children.”
France and Belgium have both banned the full-face veil and Switzerland’s lower house this week narrowly approved a draft bill on a nationwide ban. In August Germany’s interior minister came out in favour of a partial ban.
France was also this summer embroiled in a row over bans on the full-body burkini swimsuit in resorts around the Riviera.
A poll published earlier this month showed Britons to be strongly in favour of a full-face veil ban.