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Amnesty International, Muslim council oppose Belgian burqa bill

Saturday, May 01, 2010 09:24:37 PM, Raf Casert, Associated Press

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Brussels: Belgium's Muslim council and rights group Amnesty International led the criticism Friday of plans to ban burqa-type Islamic dress in public.

They condemned Thursday's vote by the House of Representatives to back a bill which considers burqa-type clothing incompatible with basic security because everyone in public must be recognizable.

Friday's criticism came as the bill moves to the senate.

It is unclear though when the senate will be able to vote, as Belgium's government has fallen and elections are expected in mid-June.

Some Christian Democrats and Liberals in the Senate have questioned the phrasing of the law, which holds no one can appear in public “with the face fully or partly covered so as to render them no longer recognizable.” Amnesty International said the bill is guilty of the very thing it says it seeks to combat.

It is “being presented as an act to combat discrimination against women whereas as an actual fact it is an act of discrimination in itself,” said David Nichols, executive officer Amnesty International Brussels. “It severely curtails individuals rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.” Isabelle Praile, the vice president of the Belgian Muslim Council, said the bill was fighting phantoms. “The burqa for me is something that does not exist in Belgium but mainly in Afghanistan,” she said.

Last year, the city of Brussels fined only 29 women - down from 33 in 2008 - for wearing a burqa-type dress. In Belgium, local governments can ban the burqa, but enforcement is spotty and the new law would outlaw it on a national level.

Praile criticized the proposed law for targeting minorities and threatening their human rights.

The law's author, Daniel Bacquelaine, a Liberal, said the burqa clashes with the principles of an emancipated society that respects the rights of all.

Amnesty International said the Belgian initiative could be followed by others.

“It sets a very dangerous precedent for other European countries now,” Nichols told AP Television News.

President Nicolas Sarkozy says the burqa “is not welcome” in France, but questions have been raised about the constitutionality of a ban.

In France, a nation of 65 million people, the government estimates 1,900 women cover their faces with niqabs, a scarf that exposes only the eyes, or sitars, a filmy veiled cloth thrown over the head to cover the entire face.

France banned Muslim head scarves as well as Jewish skullcaps and Christian crosses from schools in 2004.







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