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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‘I’ll pay Denmark niqab fines’: French-Algerian millionaire

Rachid Nekkaz, a French-Algerian businessman and activist, has said he will keep a promise he made earlier this year to pay fines issued in Denmark for breaches of the new law against face-masking garments.

'I’ll pay Denmark niqab fines': French-Algerian millionaire
Rachid Nekkaz in Denmark in March. Photo: Uffe Weng/Ritzau Scanpix

The law, popularly known as the ‘burqa ban’, came into effect last week, to protests in Copenhagen and Aarhus from Muslim women who wear the veil and others who oppose it.

Nekkaz told Berlingske that he would pay fines after a 29-year-old woman in Hørsholm became the first to be penalised under the law.

“Of course I will pay all the fines that are issued on the streets of Denmark after August 1st,” he told Berlingske via written message.

The businessman will travel to Copenhagen to pay the fines, he added.

“I will be in Copenhagen on September 11th to pay all the fines, and will thereafter do this every month, because even though I am against the niqab, I will always defend freedom across the world. Freedom to wear the niqab as well as freedom not to wear the niqab,” he said.

First offences under the law are punishable with fines of 1,000 kroner, while repeat offences can be fined up to 10,000 kroner.

The 46-year-old, who was born in France to Algerian parents, has paid fines amounting to hundreds of thousands of euros, by his own estimation, for women in countries including Belgium, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Germany.

“I have paid 1,538 fines,” he said in March when announcing his intention to cover the cost of the then-proposed Danish niqab penalties.

“There is no limit to how much I will pay. Freedom has no limit,” he said at the time.