GENEVA: A second Swiss canton will introduce a regional “burqa ban”, after voters in St Gallen on Sun­day emphatically backed prohibiting all face-covering garments in public spaces.

At the same time, voters across Switzerland resoundingly rejected initiatives aimed at boosting local far­ming and promoting more ethical and environmental standards in food production, amid fears of cost hikes and reduced consumer choice.

In the northeastern canton of St Gallen, nearly 67 per cent of voters came out in favour of introducing the implicit “burqa ban”, acco­rding to official results, which showed turnout was 36 per cent.

That paves the way for the canton to follow the example of the southern region of Ticino, where a law was introduced two years ago that appeared to be aimed at burqas and other Muslim veils.

Three other cantons — Zurich, Solothurn and Glarus — have rejected intro­ducing such bans in recent years. 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.

That law passed the regional parliament with support from the populist right and centre parties — but the issue was put to the people after the Green and Green Liberal parties demanded a referendum.

Supporters of the ban insisted in campaign literature that “it is integral to our culture and our values to be able to look each other in the eyes without hiding”.

The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland on Sunday slammed the ban as “Islamophobic”. Other opponents have insisted the ban was useless, stressing that very few women wear burqas or other face-covering veils in St Gallen.

Opponents have also pointed out that the canton already has a law prohibiting face-covering during demonstrations that require police authorisation as well as at sporting events.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2018

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