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News 28 Apr 16

Bulgarian Town Pioneers Total Ban on Burqa

The new ban imposed on the public use of the burqa in Pazardjik, in southeast Bulgaria, sets the stage for a debate in parliament on banning face-coverings nationally.

Mariya Cheresheva BIRN Sofia
Photo: Exit 1979/Flickr

The southern Bulgarian town Pazardjik has become the first in Bulgaria to introduce a total ban on wearing the face-cover known as the burqa in public.

The changes to the municipal regulation on public order banning the burqa, proposed by counsellors from the nationalist National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria, were backed by 39 of 41 members of the municipal council.

‘Face covering in public spaces is incompatible with universal social norms and undermines the principle of security of citizens," the backers of the proposal said..

Initially, there were two proposals for a ban on the burqa, which has become widespread among members of the Salafist community in Pazardjik over the past few years.

A lighter version of the ban was tabled by the Mayor, Todor Popov, from the the centrist GERB party, who proposed banning the use of the burqa in public institutions.

But on Tuesday Popov scrapped his own proposal and a more restrictive one, filed by the NFSB, was voted on and approved. The only two municipal counsellors who rejected the ban were representatives of the ethnic Roma group, Euroroma.

The bylaw, which will enter into force in seven days, bans wearing face covering in all public spaces, including parks, gardens, schools, and on public and private transport.

Exceptions may be made only for medical or professional reasons as well as during sporting and cultural events.

The ban will not be in force in private homes in Pazardjik, or in places of worship.

Offenders will be fined 300 leva - around 150 euros - for the first offence and around 1,000 leva - around 500 euros - for subsequent offences.

Pazardjik’s Iztok neighbourhood, home to around 20,000 mainly Roma people, has become a stronghold of radical Islam in Bulgaria over the past few years.

In July 2015, prosecutors charged 14 Muslims - including the controversial imam Ahmed Moussa - from Pazardjik and nearby Plovdiv, Asenovgrad and Startsevo, with inciting religious hatred through their preaching and with promoting ISIS propaganda.

The ban on the burqa is Pazardjik sets the stage for an upcoming vote in parliament on a ban at national level, proposed by the nationalist coalition the Patriotic Front, which unites the NFSB and VMRO, a party led by the vice-president of the assembly, Krassimir Karakachanov.

The debate on the burqa, the niqab and other face covers gained momentum after Bulgaria’s Prosecutor General, Sotir Tsatsarov, said he favoured such measures on April 1.

"Religious freedoms should not be trodden on, but we should not allow religious motives to be used for illegal propaganda, political purposes and radicalization," Tsatsarov said in Pazardjik.

Intensified terrorist attacks in Europe in 2015 and 2016, as well as the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, have led to an increase of anti-Muslim rhetoric in Bulgaria.

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Background

Western Balkans on Alert Over ISIS Threat

Countries in the region have raised security levels and introduced new precautions to counter the threat of terrorist attacks by Islamic State.

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