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'Burqa ban' moves forward

Bill to go before House in September

02 August, 17:05
'Burqa ban' moves forward (ANSA) - Rome, August 2 - The prospect of Italy following France and Belgium with a 'burqa ban' moved a step forward Tuesday when a bill backed by the centre-right ruling coalition was approved by a parliamentary committee.

The bill, the product of eight separate proposals by Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PdL) and the rightwing Northern League party, its junior partner, got the green light from the House Constitutional Affairs committee.

It will go before the full House in September, political sources said. The bill was framed amid heated debate about the security implications of Islamic face coverings and after several moves by the League against the burqa at local level. The draft law, which makes no mention of religion, would also ban the niqab, which covers the bottom part of the face only, and other head-covering garments "of ethnic origin".

The penalty for transgressors will be a fine of between 150 and 300 euros or alternatively some kind of community service "aimed at encouraging integration".

The bill is even more severe in aiming to discourage anyone "who forces someone else to wear it, using either physical or psychological violence".

This offence would be punishable by a year in prison and a 30,000-euro fine.

The bill's rapporteur, Suad Sbai of the Pdl, said Tuesday's vote, in which the centre-left opposition Democratic Party was the only party to vote No, was "a decisive push for a measure (promoting) freedom and civilised values".

"We won't stop, on the road towards the liberation of women who are segregated and without rights," she said. A 1975 law already prohibits any mask or clothing that makes it impossible to identify the wearer.

In its current form, it permits exceptions for 'justified cause', which has been interpreted as including religious reasons in court rulings against local attempts to ban the burqa and niqab.

A recent survey from polling institute Panel Data suggested 73% of Italians thought Islamic face coverings should not be worn in public.

Of the 1,000 adults polled, nearly a third were opposed because they felt such veils were a degrading practice imposed on women by others.

Just under 30% blamed the burqa and niqab for lower levels of integration, while 20% cited security concerns.

There are no estimates of how many women wear the face veil in Italy, where Islam is the second-largest religion after Catholicism with around 1.2 million faithful.

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