Residents of Switzerland’s Italian-speaking region Sunday voted to ban the wearing of full-face veils. And now the Swiss Muslim community is voicing outrage at the results of the referendum, saying it violates their rights.
Sixty-five percent of voters in the canton of Ticino voted in favor of the proposal to outlaw the covering of faces in public places, AFP reports. The wording of the measure - nicknamed the “anti-burka” initiative - did not single out Islam explicitly, though it is being widely viewed as targeting the practice associated with some Muslim women.
"No one may mask or hide their face on the public highway, nor in places open to the public, except places of worship, nor those offering a public service," the measure read.
“No one may require another person to cover their face for reasons of gender,” it added.
Swiss Info reports, “The law would apply to burkas and niqabs, face coverings with a slit for the eyes often worn as part of a full-body covering, but not to headscarves.”
The Swiss Central Islamic Council called the results “yet another loud expression of social Islamophobia.”
"We in the Council see this as part of a string of attempts to make life increasingly difficult for Muslims in Switzerland and to ban symbols of Islam from the public arena," the group said in a statement quoted by AFP.
"It restricts the fundamental constitutional rights of Muslim women without any pressing need or national legal basis," it added.
Amnesty International also weighed in against the measure, calling it “black day for human rights in Ticino.”
"Fear, and the creation of a problem where there isn't one, have beaten reason and respect, to the detriment of the basic rights of the entire population," Manon Schick who heads Amnesty's Swiss section said in a statement.
According to Al Arabiya, activists behind the new measure are aligned with the right-wing party "Il Guastafeste," known for criticizing Islam.
Political campaigner and former journalist Giorgio Ghiringhelli tells swissinfo.ch that his goal is to send a message that people are against "militant Islamism."
"This is an historic vote for Ticino," Ghiringhelli told RSI, Switzerland's Italian-language broadcaster.
“And not just for Ticino, but also for Switzerland and abroad, where the Ticino example could spread,” he added.
“But those who rebuff our values and aim to build a parallel society based on religious laws, and want to place it over our society, are not welcome,” he added.
Before taking effect, the veil ban has to first be approved by the Swiss parliament in Bern. In 2009, Swiss citizens adopted a constitutional amendment in a nationwide referendum to ban the building of new mosque minarets. Before the vote, there were four minarets in Switzerland, which were not impacted by the measure.
According to AFP, around 400,000 Muslims live in Switzerland, mostly immigrants from North Africa and the Balkans, making up five percent of the population.
In 2010, France passed a law banning full-face veils in public and Belgium later did the same.