Danish politicians passed a law Thursday banning clothing that covers the face, making wearing full-face Islamic veils like the burqa and niqab in public punishable with a $160 fine.
While the government says the law doesn’t target any religion, the party that first suggested the law nine years ago, the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, said it was a reflection that full-face Islamic veils were incompatible with Danish culture. The party rose to become the second-largest party in the parliament in the 2015 elections.
The move follows the passage of similar laws in France, Belgium and Austria amid growing anti-immigrant sentiment, but critics in Denmark say it impinges on women’s rights to dress in accordance with their religious beliefs.
“If the intention of this law was to protect women’s rights, it fails abjectly. Instead, the law criminalises women for their choice of clothing and in so doing flies in the face of those freedoms Denmark purports to uphold,” said Amnesty International’s Europe director Gauri van Gulik.
Van Gulik added it would “have a particularly negative impact on Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab or burqa.”
“All women should be free to dress as they please and to wear clothing that expresses their identity or beliefs,” she said.
Lawmakers voted 75-30 in favor of the law, which was held under an agreement whereby individual MPs were free to vote in accordance with their personal views. More than 70 politicians opted not to cast a vote.
Justice Minister Soeren Pape Poulsen said that police officers would be expected to use common sense in enforcing the law, which will go into effect on Aug. 1. He told Danish newspaper Politiken last month that he didn’t want police officers to remove clothing from people, but suggested they might ask people to go home and change if seen wearing clothing in breach of the law.
Under the law, first-time offenders will be fined 1,000 Danish crowns ($160), with fines increasing to 10,000 crowns for the fourth offense.
The right-wing Danish People’s Party, which first suggested the ban in 2009, welcomed the move. “Parliament has clearly stated that the burqa and niqab do not belong in Denmark,” the party’s immigration spokesman Martin Henriksen said. “They are incompatible with Danish culture and the foundations on which Denmark is built.”
Only a tiny minority of Denmark’s 5.7 million people wear full-face Islamic veils; the most recent official estimates, from 2010, put the number at between 150 to 200. France was the first European country to introduce a similar ban in 2011, amid anxieties over the integration of the country’s Muslim minority. The European Court of Human Rights upheld Belgium’s burqa ban last year.
Cover image: Women in niqab walk in front of the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg Castle, in Copenhagen, May 31, 2018. Denmark has joined some other European countries in banning garments that cover the face, including Islamic veils such as the niqab or burqa. In a 75-30 vote with 74 absentees, Danish lawmakers approved the law presented by Denmark's center-right governing coalition. (Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)