BERLIN – Swiss voters narrowly approved a proposal on Sunday to ban the face covering, whether the niqab or burqa worn by some Muslim women in the country, and the ski masks and bands used by protesters.
This measure will ban covering your face in public places such as restaurants, sports stadiums, public transportation, or just walking on the street. It expects exceptions at religious sites and for security or health reasons, such as the face masks that people now wear to protect against COVID-19, as well as for traditional carnival celebrations. The authorities have two years to develop detailed legislation.
Two Swiss cantons, or states, Ticino and St. Gallen, already have similar legislation providing for fines for violations. National legislation will bring Switzerland in line with countries like Belgium and France that have already enacted similar measures.
The Swiss government opposed this measure, describing it as excessive, arguing that covering the face completely is a “marginal phenomenon”. He argued that the ban could harm tourism – most Muslim women who wear such a headscarf in Switzerland are visitors from the wealthy Persian Gulf states, and are often drawn to the Swiss towns bordering the lake.
Experts estimate that at most a few dozen Muslim women wear full-face coverings in the country of 8.5 million people.
Supporters of the proposal, which was voted on five years after its launch, argued that full-face coverings symbolized the oppression of women, and said the measure was necessary to uphold a fundamental principle that faces should appear in a free society like Switzerland.
Ultimately, 51.2% of voters supported the plan. It had a majority against it in six of Switzerland’s 26 cantons – among them those that included the country’s three largest cities, Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and the capital, Bern. SRF public television reported that voters in several popular tourist destinations including Interlaken, Lucerne and Zermatt rejected this.
Among the supporters was the Swiss National People’s Party, the strongest in parliament. The committee that launched the proposal is chaired by a lawmaker from the party, Walter Wobman, who also proceeded to impose a ban on building new minarets approved by voters in 2009.
A coalition of left-wing parties opposed to the proposal put up signs before the referendum that read: “Absurd. Useless. Islamophobia.”
Wubman told SRF that the initiative dealt with “the symbol of an entirely different value system … very radical Islam” and security against “rioters”. He said, “This has nothing to do with symbolic politics.”
Voters had their say on two other issues on Sunday. They apparently rejected the proposed voluntary “electronic identity” to improve the security of online transactions – an idea that conflicts with privacy advocates, as could have been issued by private companies – and hardly agreed to a free trade deal with Indonesia.