Brussels (AFP) An influential committee of Belgian lawmakers voted yesterday to impose a nationwide ban on wearing the Islamic niqab in public, paving the way for the first restrictions of its kind in Europe.
The federal parliament's home affairs committee voted unanimously to endorse the ban on any clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the full-face niqab and burqa.
Those who ignore it could face a fine of 15-25 euros (Dh75-Dh124) and/or a jail sentence of up to seven days, unless they have police permission to wear the garments.
With the governing parties and opposition in agreement, officials expect the full house to easily endorse the draft law on April 22.
If endorsed, the vote would see the ban imposed in streets, public gardens and sports grounds or buildings "meant for public use or to provide services" to the public.
The vice-president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, Isabelle Praile, warned that the move could set a dangerous precedent. "Today it's the full-face veil, tomorrow the veil, the day after it will be Sikh turbans and then perhaps it will be mini skirts."
"The wearing of a full-face veil is part of the individual freedoms" protected by Belgian, European and international rights laws, she said.
The Catholic bishop in the town of Tournai, Guy Harpigny, asked if the state really has the right to regulate religious symbols.