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Women defiant as Danish ban on full-face veil takes effect

Denmark's controversial ban on the Islamic full-face veil in public spaces came into force on Wednesday as women protested the new measure which fines anyone wearing the garment.

Women defiant as Danish ban on full-face veil takes effect
People demonstrate against the ban on burqa and niqab in Nørrebro, Copenhagen on August 1st. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Human rights campaigners have slammed the ban as a violation of women's rights, while supporters argue it enables better integration of Muslim immigrants into Danish society. 

Protests against the ban were planned in Copenhagen and Aarhus late on Wednesday, with several hundred people expected to attend, some of them wearing the full-face veil.

A spokesman for the Copenhagen police said they did not plan to fine the protesters who violated the ban.

Wearing a burqa, which covers a person's entire face, or the niqab, which only shows the eyes, in public will lead to a fine of 1,000 kroner (134 euros).

The ban also targets other accessories that hide the face such as balaclavas and false beards. Repeated violations will be fined up to 10,000 kroner.

A 30-year-old Muslim woman interviewed by newspaper Berlingske, identified only as Sarah, said she had “lost faith in the system”.

Born and raised in Denmark by parents who emigrated from Turkey, she has worn the niqab since she was 18.

“I've realised that democracy doesn't work. Politicians boast of freedoms and rights when they are making fun of Muslims and when they are drawing caricatures of the prophet. But when it comes to me, they take away my right to choose how I want to dress,” she said.

“I have come to the realisation that Muslims don't have the same rights as others. So much of politics is hypocritical.”

Earlier this year, a woman who wore the niqab told The Local she felt the law oppressed religious freedom.

“We’re against the ban because we live in Denmark and we believe that everybody should have the free choice and decide themselves what they want to wear. We want to be allowed to wear the niqab and practice our religion. [The new law] is against the constitution in Denmark, so we’re trying to fight that,” Maria, who requested not to use her full name, from dialogue group Kvinder i Dialog said.

It is not known how many women wear the niqab and burqa across the country.

“I don't think there are many who wear the burqa here in Denmark. But if you do, you should be punished with a fine,” Justice Minister Søren Pape Poulsen was quoted as saying by Ritzau in February when the government presented its proposal for the ban.

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

It said at the time that the burqa and niqab were not “compatible with the values and sense of community in Danish society”.

Amnesty International on Wednesday condemned the law as a “discriminatory violation of women's rights”, especially against Muslim women who choose to wear the full-face veils.

“If the intention of this law was to protect women's rights it fails abjectly. Instead, the law criminalises women for their choice of clothing – making a mockery of the freedoms Denmark purports to uphold,” Deputy Europe Director Fotis Filippou said in a statement.

“Whilst some specific restrictions on the wearing of full face veils for the purposes of public safety may be legitimate, this blanket ban is neither necessary nor proportionate and violates women's rights to freedom of expression and religion,” he added.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a Belgian ban on wearing the full-face veil in public.

France was the first European country to ban the niqab in public places with a law that took effect in 2011.

READ ALSO: 'Because I have children and I don’t want to get into problems, I will remove my veil'

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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

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