Banning full facial coverings will deter tourists and ‘be unhelpful for certain groups of women’, government says.
A clear majority of Swiss voters favour introducing a nationwide prohibition against the wearing of full facial coverings such as burqas and niqabs in public spaces, a poll showed on Friday.
According to the Tamedia poll of 15,000 eligible voters, 63 percent of those questioned said they would vote yes or were considering voting yes in an upcoming referendum on the so-called “burqa ban”, the Tages Anzeiger newspaper reported.
The Swiss are set to vote on whether they want to ban full facial coverings in public on March 7, when they will also vote on a range of other issues as part of the country’s direct democratic system.
The text of the proposed ban does not mention Muslim veils explicitly, stating only that “no one shall cover their face in public, nor in areas accessible to the public or in areas where services are ordinarily accessible to all”.
But the proposal, which has been opposed by the Swiss government, is widely seen as targeting niqabs, burqas and other face-covering veils worn by some Muslim women.
The initiative proposes some exceptions to the ban, including in “places of worship” and for “health reasons”.
The grouping behind the proposal – the “Egerkinger Komitee” – includes members of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP). Some left-leaning politicians have also joined the campaign in the name of protecting women’s rights.
But the Swiss government has warned against a nationwide constitutional ban, saying this week such a move was a bad idea. Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter stressed that women wearing full facial veils were rarely seen in Switzerland.
She also said that most women seen in the country wearing such veils are tourists.
Keller-Sutter insisted the issue should be left up to Switzerland’s 26 cantons.
Two cantons, Ticino and St Gallen, have already introduced such bans, while three other cantons, Zurich, Solothurn and Glarus, have rejected doing so in recent years.
The government and parliament are backing a counterproposal, which would require people to reveal their faces to the authorities for identification purposes, for instance at borders or on public transport.
Fines of up to 10,000 Swiss francs ($11,300) could be given to anyone who refused, according to the counterproposal, which will enter into force if the proposal to ban full facial coverings is rejected.
The “Egerkinger Komitee” was also behind Switzerland’s 2009 move to ban the construction of new minarets, which was approved by nearly 60 percent of voters.
Supporters of the 2009 proposal saw the minarets as alien to Swiss traditions and values.
Muslims make up only about 5 percent of Switzerland’s 8.6 million people, official statistics show.