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Burqa wearer risks 500-euro fine

Woman stopped by police under new local 'burqa ban' law

03 May, 17:37
Burqa wearer risks 500-euro fine (ANSA) - Novara, May 3 - A woman visiting a post office in the northwest city of Novara could receive a 500-euro-fine for wearing a burqa after she was stopped by police under new local rules. The foreign-born woman was swiftly identified by police but she is still eligible for a penalty under a city ordinance that took effect in January. The new regulation prohibits any clothing that prevents the immediate identification of the wearer inside public buildings, schools and hospitals. The city police said the woman was stopped during a series of spot checks.

"The ordinance is being applied in the instant case because the woman was inside the post office at the time, which is a public building," said police chief Paolo Cortese.

The maximum fine for violating the ordinance is 500 euros but Cortese said his office was still assessing the circumstances of the incident and an appropriate penalty.

The ordinance was introduced by Mayor Massimo Giordano, a member of the populist Northern League party that favours tougher immigration controls. It was issued under a 1975 national anti-terrorism law, which forbids any mask or clothing that makes it impossible to identify the wearer.

Cortese said the Novara ordinance had been sent to the Interior Ministry to ensure its compliance with the national law. "The ministry commented on the technical aspects of the ordinance, limiting its application to schools, hospitals and public buildings," he said. Commenting on the decision to fine the woman, Mayor Giordano said he had hoped issuing the ordinance would be sufficient to deter women from covering up.

"But unfortunately it is apparently not yet clear to everyone that clothes preventing the wearer's identification can be tolerated at home but not in public places, in schools, on buses or in post offices," he said. "There are still some people that refuse to understand that our community in Novara does not accept and does not want people going around wearing the burqa". The mayor described the ordinance as "the only tool at our disposal to stop behavior that makes the already difficult process of integration even harder". Novara is not the first local authority in Italy to introduce such rules under the 1975 law.

Fermignano in the Marche and Montegrotto Terme near Padua have both issued identical ordinances, while a burqa-clad woman in Treviso was taken to a police station in 2008 during a post office visit. The current law permits exceptions for 'justified cause', which has been interpreted as including religious reasons in court rulings against local bans on the burqa.

However, a Northern League bill currently before parliament would amend the 1975 law to make specific reference to Islamic face coverings. The proposed wording would prohibit "the use of female garments common among women of Islamic faith known as burqas and niqabs".

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Belgium's lower house on Friday voted unanimously to prohibit women from wearing full face veils in public. If the bill receives a green light from the Senate, it would become Europe's first national 'burqa ban'.

Around 30 of Belgium's half a million Muslims are thought to wear full face coverings. No equivalent estimates have been made in Italy, where Islam is the second largest religion after Catholicism Italy with around 1.2 million faithful.

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