Danish party corrects spokesperson on burqa ban

The Danish opposition Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) Party has clarified its position after a spokesperson appeared to suggest the party would join conservatives in supporting a ban on burqas.

Danish party corrects spokesperson on burqa ban
Stock photo: Iris/Scanpix

Acting spokesperson Lotte Rod said on Wednesday that she would support a ban on the face-covering veil, joining the populist Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DF) in calling for the face-covering burqa and niqab to be forbidden in public.

Rod wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that she would “like to support a ban” against the burqa and niqab, “if the government then makes a concerted effort to help women out of oppression”.

Leader Sofie Carsten Nielsen later said that the position was Rod’s own and does not reflect that of the party as a whole.

“Lotte has made a whole-hearted attempt to place focus in the right area, namely how we should tackle social control. But as Lotte wrote on Facebook, she was speaking on her own behalf,” Nielsen told news agency Ritzau.

In March this year, the European Court of Justice ruled that employers are entitled to ban workers from wearing headscarves after two cases were brought to it by Belgian and French courts.

Following the ruling, DF said that it would like to resurrect its proposal to introduce a ban on the burqa and niqab in Denmark.

Rod wrote Tuesday that such a proposal would be supported by her, only to be promptly corrected by party leadership.

“It would be very nice if we could look everyone on their eyes and see their facial expressions when walking down the street or in the supermarket. That means a lot to me,” Rod said on Wednesday according to Ritzau.

Nielsen told the news agency that she agreed with Rod on the importance of being able to see each other’s eyes, saying that this was important in Danish society.

“I actually think I agree with Lotte mostly. I just want to make clear the perception of where we stand in the Social Liberal Party. We want to fight social control and oppression,” the party leader said.

“If we start forbidding individual items, we are shifting focus [away from this]. That is exactly what we have accused DF of doing. They are using their energy to discuss symbols, but are doing nothing about social control,” Nielsen added. 

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One year on: What happened after Denmark’s ‘burqa ban’ came into force?

A controversial ban on wearing face-masking garments in public, widely referred to as the ‘burqa ban’, came into effect in Denmark on August 1st last year.

One year on: What happened after Denmark’s 'burqa ban' came into force?
Niqabi women protest against Denmark's ban on face-covering garments on August 1st, 2018. Photo: Andrew Kelly / Reuters / Ritzau Scanpix

Since then, 23 people have been fined under the law, according to National Police figures reported by Kristeligt Dagblad.

The ban came into effect a year ago on Thursday, imposing a fine of 1,000 kroner (134 euros) for first offences on individuals wearing garments including the burqa, which covers a person's entire face, or the niqab, which only shows the eyes, as well as other accessories that hide the face such as balaclavas.

Hundreds of people protested against the ban in Copenhagen and Aarhus on August 1st last year. The Local attended the demonstration which took place in the Nørrebro neighbourhood in the capital and spoke to niqab-wearing women about the law.

A majority consisting of the Liberal, Conservative and Danish People’s parties, the Social Democrats, and some Liberal Alliance members, last year voted the law through parliament. It therefore split opinion on both the left and right wings.

Broadly, proponents claimed the ban would prevent suppression of women’s rights. When it proposed the law change, the Ministry of Justice said that the burqa and niqab were not “compatible with the values and sense of community in Danish society”.

READ ALSO: Police will not forcibly remove veils from women: Danish justice minister

Critics said that the ban infringed religious freedom – something Denmark’s constitution guarantees – and Amnesty International in 2018 condemned the law as a “discriminatory violation of women's rights”, especially against Muslim women who choose to wear the full-face veils.

The effectiveness the burqa ban is difficult to measure given the low number of fines issued, according to Margit Warburg, a sociologist specializing in religion at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies.

“You can’t say, based on 23 fines, whether the ban works as it was intended. Maybe the (affected) women don’t go out very much? Maybe no-one calls the police? Or it could be because people actually have removed their niqab. In reality, we don’t know,” Warburg told Kristeligt Dagblad.

The number of people who wear the Islamic veil in Denmark is limited to approximately 150-200 niqab wearers, around half of whom are converts to Islam, Warburg estimates. Very few women – perhaps none at all – wear the burqa, according to the researcher, who led a 2009 report on the prevalence of the Islamic veil in the country.

READ ALSO: 'From one day to another, we're criminals': Muslim women speak against Denmark's burqa ban