Bulgaria’s parliament on Friday approved legislation banning the Islamic veil covering the face in public, joining a small number of EU countries as debate rages across Europe over religious freedoms.
The law “prohibits the wearing of public clothing that partially or completely covers the face”, referring to the more common burqa or niqab.
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Violations are punishable by fines of 200 leva (USD 114), up to 1500 leva for repeated offenses.
Bulgaria’s mostly century-old Muslim community dating back to Ottoman-era conversions makes up around 13% of the population, mostly in the Turkish minority.
Muslim women in Bulgaria generally wore just a simple headscarf to cover their hair.
But recently there has been a slight increase in the number of women wearing the niqab among the ultra-conservative Muslim communities of the Roma minority.
The Roma, often impoverished and marginalized, make up just under 10 percent of the Bulgarian population, of whom around a third are Muslims. Several Bulgarian towns had already banned the niqab at the local level.
The legislation was approved despite opposition from the Turkish minority MDL party, which accused the other parties of “sowing religious intolerance”.
France and Belgium have both banned the burqa or niqab, and Switzerland’s lower house narrowly this week approved a bill on a nationwide ban. In August, the German interior minister voted in favor of a partial ban.
France was also involved this summer in the ban on the burkini, a full Islamic swimsuit, in the seaside resorts of the Riviera. A poll released earlier this month showed Britain’s strong support for a burqa ban.