Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted on September 30 to approve the second reading of a law banning the wearing of clothing partly concealing or hiding the face in public places, known as the “burqa ban”.
The law forbids the wearing in public of clothing disguising or concealing the face, whether solid or translucent clothing and various other items, including masks.
The penalty for a first offence will be 200 leva (about 102 euro), and 1500 leva for second and further offences, along with suspension of social benefits. If the offenders are public officials, the fine for a first offence will be 500 leva, and 2000 leva for second and further offences.
The ban does not apply if the covering of the face is necessary for health reasons, professional reasons, sports events or cultural, educational or other events in houses of worship of registered religious denominations.
The law has been pushed by the nationalist Patriotic Front, whose co-leader Krassimir Karakachanov said that the burqa was more a uniform than a religious symbol.
The law was opposed by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Parliament’s third-largest party and one which has a substantial Muslim electorate. The MRF’s Yordan Tsonev said that while it was claimed that the law was about national security, the fact was that it was a purely political and electoral move that would inculcate intolerance.
Parliament rejected an MRF proposal to scrap the bill from the National Assembly’s agenda. In protest, the MRF parliamentary group walked out.
The MRF’s Chetin Kazak said that the ruling majority had supported the bill to appease the Patriotic Front and hold the governing coalition together.
GERB’s Krassimir Velchev said that the law was not directed against religious communities and was not repressive.
Eighty per cent of crime detection in countries was already due to video surveillance systems, he said. This would not work if such systems were hobbled by not being able to see people’s faces.
(Photo: Hans Braxmeier)