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Belgium parliamentary committee votes to impose nationwide burqa ban

[JURIST] A Belgian parliamentary committee voted unanimously Wednesday to ban the Islamic burqa [JURIST news archive] and other "full veils" from being worn in public. The proposed legislation [materials, in French] applies to areas "accessible to the public" or areas meant for "public use or to provide public services." Violators could face a penalty of up to seven days in jail or a fine of 15 to 25 euros. The proposed law does not impose restrictions on traditional Muslim headscarves, and it provides for groups to apply for a temporary exemption [Times Online report] for festivals or other events. The proposed ban has ignited concern among some who view it as an "attack on civil liberties." If approved by Parliament [official website, in Dutch], Belgium will be the first European nation to impose a nationwide restriction on traditional face-covering veils. The lower house of parliament is scheduled to vote on the bill on April 22.

France has also been pressing for a ban on the burqa. Earlier this week, the French Council of State [official website, in French] advised the French government [report, PDF; in French] that a complete ban on full Islamic veils risks violating [JURIST report] the French Constitution [text] and the European Convention on Human Rights [text]. Last week, French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official website, in French] announced that the government will introduce legislation [JURIST report] to ban traditional Muslim face veils [transcript, in French] in public places. Sarkozy's announcement came just weeks after a French parliamentary commission charged with investigating whether to enact laws banning the wearing of burqas released its report [text, PDF; in French] calling for a partial ban [JURIST report] that would apply in public facilities, including hospitals, schools, and public transportation, and to any individual attempting to receive public services. Also last week, lawmakers in Quebec introduced a bill that would ban women wearing full face veils from public services [Star report], such as receiving care at a hospital or going to a public university.

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