Geneva: The Swiss government on Wednesday said it opposes a proposed burqa ban that is due to come to a referendum after supporters gained 106,600 signatures last year to enable a popular vote against full facial covering.
The Swiss Federal Council said in a statement that while the wearing of a full veil can be “problematic”, it should continue to be left up to individual cantons to decide.
The matter will go to a nationwide vote after enough public support, in the form of 106,600 signatures, was gathered in September last year for a people’s initiative calling for a ban on the veil fully covering the face, known as a burqa, Xinhua reported.
Neither the date nor the exact wording of this vote has been announced, national broadcaster Swissinfo reported.
Belgium, neighbouring France, Denmark and Spain, have all taken measures against the wearing of Islamic veils and the Netherlands also passed a ban this week.
The federal council said a full national ban would make it impossible to consider individual cantons’ differing sensitivities.
The government also specified that under its counter proposal, it would remain “unacceptable” and “a punishable offence” to force a woman to cover her face.
A group seeking a national vote on a proposal needs to collect more than 100,000 signatures, and a group called “Yes to a ban on full facial coverings” did so.
It includes some of those who spearheaded a 2009 Swiss ban on constructing new minarets, the towers above mosques.
Italian-speaking Ticino is the only Swiss canton which has introduced a total face-covering ban in public places.
The measures sought in the vote would also seek to forbid protesters from concealing their faces during demonstrations.
In January, a newspaper poll showed that 76 per cent of Swiss voters would approve of a nationwide ban on face-coverings, said Swissinfo.