Muslim women in Austria were forced by police to remove their facial coverings on Sunday, as an anti-burqa law came into effect.
The so-called ‘burqa ban’ prohibits facial coverings including niqabs and burqas, and also places restrictions on surgical masks, ski masks and clown make-up worn in public.
Yesterday, a woman wearing a niqab facial veil, which only leaves the eyes uncovered, was seen being told to remove her veil by two police officers in Zell am See, a city south of Saltzburg.
Those who defy the ban could face a fine of €150 (£132).
While the rule applies to some non-religious facial coverings, it is mostly perceived to be directed at the extremely modest clothes worn by a minority of Muslim women.
Full veils remain rare in Austria despite the surge of migrants and refugees into Europe in 2015, but they have become a target for right-wing groups and political parties.
The measures, similar to those in other European Union countries such as France, also apply to visitors even though large numbers of Arab tourists holiday in the Alpine country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has previously indicated her support for a similar law in Germany, saying: “Our law takes precedence over codes of honor, tribal or family rules, and over sharia law.”
Some Muslim groups in Austria have criticised the ban. Carla Amina Bhagajati of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria said the “handful” of fully veiled women she knows of in Vienna “now are criminalized and… restricted to their homes.”
The legislation was brought in by the outgoing centrist government of Chancellor Christian Kern. The government said: “Acceptance and respect of Austrian values are basic conditions for successful cohabitation between the majority Austrian population and people from third countries living in Austria.”
However, the strong support for the new law could point towards political upheaval in Austria’s general election on October 15.
Austrian parties campaigning on anti-migrant messages are predicted to win and form a coalition government, reflecting a swing to the right in a country that has mainly had centrist governments since World War II.
The election is expected to see the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe) come second or third and potentially enter a coalition with Sebastian Kurz of the centre-right.
Other measures that came into force Sunday include immigrants signing an “integration contract” and compulsory courses in the German language and “values”.(source)