Face veil ban up for regional vote in Switzerland
A second Swiss canton will vote on whether to introduce a regional so-called "burqa ban" on Sunday, a controversial law that would prohibit all face-covering garments in public spaces.
The ballot in northeastern St. Gallen - a stronghold of the populist right-wing Swiss People's Party - is to be held after left-wing factions demanded a referendum instead of a nationwide blanket ban.
St. Gallen is expected to follow the example of the southern canton of Ticino, where a law was introduced two years ago which appeared to be aimed at burqas and other Muslim veils.
A text stipulating that "any person who renders themselves unrecognisable by covering their face in a public space, and thus endangers public security or social and religious peace will be fined" was adopted by lawmakers in St. Gallen late last year.
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That law passed the regional parliament with support from the populist right and centre parties - but the issue is being put to the people after the Green Party and Young Socialists demanded a referendum.
The text, first drafted following uproar in the canton over a girl who wore a full-face veil to school, is problematic, according to Fredy Fassler, a socialist in charge of security and justice in St. Gallen.
It does not define when a woman wearing a burqa - or niqab, as known in some cultures - constitutes a danger, and critics "worry the sanctions will be unpredictable and arbitrary", he told daily newspaper Le Temps.
Switzerland's government last year opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban, saying it should be up to the regions to determine if such measures are appropriate.
All Swiss voters will eventually cast ballots on the issue after the populist right-wing Swiss People's Party gather the 100,000 signatures needed to put any subject to a referendum, as part of Switzerland's famous direct democratic system.
The group which collected signatures, named "Yes to a Mask Ban", includes some political figures who also headed the 2009 ban on constructing new minarets in country.
Swiss cantons that vote in favour of a ban on the face veil will follow in the footsteps of European neighbours France, Belgium, Austria and Denmark.
Read more: Denmark's burqa ban: A lurch towards secular extremism
Amnesty International condemned the Danish ban passed last month, calling it a "discriminatory violation of women's rights", especially against Muslim women who choose to wear the full-face veils.
Hostility and discrimination against Muslims in Switzerland is on the increase, the Federal Commission against Racism (FCR) told a conference on the matter last year.
Organisers of the event put forward that the rise in Islamophobia was due to how Islam is discussed in the media and in the political scene, which exaggerated many aspects of the religion.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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