Switzerland on Sunday narrowly voted in favour of banning full facial coverings including the niqab and burqa in almost all public places. As many as 51.21 percent of voters voted in support of the controversial proposal in the referendum.
According to CNN, the approval by voters means that facial covering will be banned in all publicly accessible places, including on the streets, in public offices, on public transport, in restaurants, shops, and in the countryside.
The places where the full facial coverings will be allowed include places of worship and other sacred sites. Besides, it will be allowed for health and safety reasons and also in situations where it is “local custom” such as carnivals.
There will be no additional exceptions, for example for tourists, according to the proposal by the Swiss federal government.
According to CNN, the proposal, put forward by several groups including the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, does not mention Islam specifically but has been widely referred to as the “burqa ban” in Swiss media.
The proposal has been widely criticised, especially by the Swiss religious organizations, human rights and civic groups, and the federal government.
According to the Swiss Council of Religions, which represents all major religious communities in Switzerland, has stated the human right to religious freedom also protects religious practices such as dress codes.
The Swiss Federal Council, which serves as the country’s federal government, and the Swiss Parliament also rejected the initiative as going too far and advised people to vote against it, CNN reported.
France was the first country in Europe to ban burqas and niqabs in public places in 2011 and the European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban in 2014.
In Switzerland, the referendum has come after years of debates. Twelve years ago another referendum had come that outlawed the construction of minarets in Switzerland.