French parliament debates burqa ban

Full-face veils contrary to the laws of the nation, French lawmakers say

The French parliament opened a debate on Tuesday on a bill that would ban women from wearing Islamic veils that fully cover the face and body, such as the burqa. If the bill is passed in a vote next week, it will go to the French Senate in a vote that will likely take place in the fall. The bill specifically targets the burqa, a full-body cover that includes a mesh over the face, and the niqab, a full-face veil that leaves an opening only for the eyes. A panel of French lawmakers first recommended a ban last year, and lawmakers unanimously passed a non-binding resolution in May calling the full-face veil contrary to the laws of the nation. The bill proposes a fine of €150 and/or a citizenship course as punishment for wearing a face-covering veil. Forcing a woman to wear a niqab or a burqa would be punishable by a year in prison or a €15,000 fine. The ban would take effect after six months time if the bill is passed, giving authorities time to try and persuade women who veil themselves voluntarily to stop. Amnesty International has urged French lawmakers to reconsider the ban, saying it violates rights to freedom of expression and religion. The hijab, which covers the hair and neck but not the face, and the chador, which covers the body but not the face, would not be banned by either law. France has an estimated Muslim population of 3.5 million people, about 6 per cent of the population, but the country does not keep official statistics on religious affiliation because of laws that require the state to remain strictly secular.