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NEWS 16 Jun 16

Bulgaria MPs Back Nationwide Burqa Ban

Parliamentarians have given overwhelmingly support for a draft law banning the wearing of veils in public places, with only ethnic Turkish MPs voting against.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Photo: Tanweerinvestments/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Bulgarian parliament gave a green light at first leading of a new bill, banning the wearing of garments covering the face in public on Wednesday.

The law, which has become popularly known as as “the burqa ban”, and effectively targeting Muslim veils, received a strong backing from 108 MPs.

Only eight parliamentarians – from the ethnic-Turkish parties, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, MRF, and DOST – voted against the proposal. No MPs abstained.

The voting does not come as a surprise, as the bill, proposed by the nationalist coalition, the Patriotic Front, PF, has already passed several parliamentary commissions with the support of a majority of the political parties.

The bill is aimed at “the aggressive enforcement of limits to personal freedom and human dignity of the women”, copying the models of communities where “radical Islam exists”.

It covers both Bulgarian citizens and temporary residents and migrants from other countries, who will not be allowed to wear clothing that hides their face partially or totally on the territory of the country.

The ban will be in force 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.

Citizens will be allowed to cover their faces only in their homes or in places of worship.

Amendments to the penal code have also been included in the draft bill, envisaging criminalizing the forceful imposition of the wearing of the burqa or its encouragement with material benefits.  

During the plenary session, the leader of DOST and former chair of the MRF, Lyutvi Mestan, called the bill “comic and pathetic”.

He accused the mainstream parties, such as Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB, the main party in the government, of caving in to the Patriotic Front in order to stay in power.

Tuncher Kardjaliev, from the MRF, said that the draft law was addressing an artificial problem and qualified it as “pure populism”.

Earlier on Wednesday, the MPs rejected the MRF’s proposal for the daft law to be withdrawn and parts of it to be incorporated in the draft anti-terror bill, which would be adopted soon by parliament.

Hamid Hamid, a MP from the MRF, said there was no need to resolve problems this way, as the burqa is worn mostly only by a small group of Roma Salafists in the central city of Pazardjik.

The Muslim veil has already been banned on a local level there, as well as in several other towns and cities.

“The fact that we have 20 or 100 women with burqas does not mean that we should wait for them to become 150,000,” Julian Angelov, from the PF, said in response. 

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