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France Cabinet approves legislation to ban burqa

The French Cabinet on Wednesday approved legislation [materials, in French] that would make it illegal to wear the Islamic burqa [JURIST news archive] or other full face veils in public. Under the bill, women who wear the veil can be required by police to show their face, and, if they refuse, they can be forced to attend citizenship classes or be charged a USD $185 fine. The proposed legislation would also make it a crime [Al Jazeera report] to force a woman to cover her face, with a penalty of one year in prison and a fine of USD $18,555. French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official website, in French] indicated he was pleased with the bill [press release, in French] and that its passage is an important step toward insuring the fundamental value of human dignity, but the proposed legislation has also been met with criticism. Amnesty International [advocacy website] has called on French lawmakers to reject the ban [press release], saying would violate freedom of expression. Others have indicated they will challenge [AP report] the constitutionality of the ban [JURIST report] if the bill becomes law. The legislation is scheduled to be voted on by the National Assembly in July and the Senate [official websites, in French] in September.

Many jurisdictions are currently considering legislation that would ban the burqa. On Tuesday, hearings began [CBC report] in Quebec's legislature on a bill introduced in March that would ban women from wearing full face veils from public services. The proposed legislation garnered support from members of the Muslim Canadian Congress [advocacy website] who argue that the law would not violate human rights [JURIST comment] and would promote the ideals of a free and democratic society. Earlier this month, European Parliament [official website] Vice President Silvana Koch-Mehrin [official website, in German] expressed her support for a continent-wide burqa ban [JURIST report]. In April, the Belgian House of Representatives voted 136-0 to approve [JURIST report] a bill that would ban the burqa and other full face veils 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 measure must now go before the Senate.

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