Under the “burqa ban” legislation, clothing that conceals the face cannot be worn in government offices, schools, cultural institutions and public places of recreation.
Those who do not comply with the new law face fines of up to 1,500 levs (860/765 euros) as well as the suspension of social benefits.
The nationalist Patriotic Front coalition pushed hard for the bill, while the Turkish Ethnic Movement for Rights and Freedoms boycotted the vote. He said the ban would only fuel ethnic and religious intolerance. The ruling center-right GERB party in Bulgaria has denied that the bill has anything to do with religion, saying its aim is to strengthen national security and improve the quality of video surveillance.
“The law is not directed against religious communities and is not repressive,” said Krasimir Velchev, senior lawmaker at GERB. “We made a very good law for the safety of our children.”
Bulgaria’s long-established Muslim community represents around 13% of the population of 7.2 million. Full niqab veils or head-to-toe burqas typically associated with ultra-conservative Muslim communities are rarely seen in the Black Sea state. Instead, most Muslim women in Bulgaria usually opt for a simple headscarf to cover their hair.
The burkini ban in several French coastal towns during the summer sparked a huge controversy
Amnesty: ban violates rights
Human rights organization Amnesty International said on Friday that the ban violates the rights of Bulgarian women to freedom of expression and religion. The group’s European director, John Dalhuisen, said the law was part of a worrying trend of intolerance, xenophobia and racism in the country.
“Legitimate safety concerns can be addressed by targeted restrictions on full face coverage in well-defined high-risk locations and not by a blanket discriminatory ban like this,” he said. “Women in Bulgaria should be free to dress as they see fit.”
Full-face veils are already banned in several Bulgarian cities. Similar measures have also been passed in Western European countries like France, the Netherlands and Belgium, while Switzerland’s lower house this week approved a bill on a national ban.
Although such a law does not exist in neighboring Germany, the issue has also been hotly debated there. A recent poll found that three-quarters of Germans would like to see a ban on full-face veils in public places. A majority of Britons would also support the move, according to a poll released earlier this month.
nm / cmk (AFP, Reuters)