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PACE unanimously opposed to a general ban on wearing of the burqa

Strasbourg, 23.06.2010 –There should be no general prohibition on wearing the burqa and the niqab or other religious clothing, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has said – though it added that legal restrictions may be justified “for security purposes, or where the public or professional functions of individuals require their religious neutrality, or that their face can be seen”.

In a resolution unanimously adopted today, the Assembly – which brings together parliamentarians from the 47 Council of Europe member states – said the veiling of women is often perceived as “a symbol of the subjugation of women to men” but a general ban would deny women “who genuinely and freely desire to do so” their right to cover their face.

However, the parliamentarians added: “No woman should be compelled to wear religious apparel by her community or family. Any act of oppression, sequestration or violence constitutes a crime that must be punished by law.” European governments should also seek to educate Muslim women on their rights, as well as their families and communities, and encourage them to take part in public and professional life.

In addition, the Assembly recalled that Muslims in Europe often encounter stigma and discrimination for their customs and beliefs, and they are also prey to religious radicalism; in short, they must face both Islamophobia on the one hand, and Islamism on the other. European governments, meanwhile, must try to find a balance, protecting the right to free worship, as long as it is compatible with common European values, yet also permitting criticism of Islam, provided it does not spill over into hate-speech.

The Assembly, approving a report on Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia prepared by Mogens Jensen (Denmark, SOC), also called on Switzerland to repeal as soon as possible its general ban on the construction of minarets, which it described as discriminatory.