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MRG dismayed by France’s decision to ban wearing of face veils in public

11 April 2011

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) on Monday expressed dismay over the passing of a French law banning the wearing of full face veils in public, saying the move is discriminatory and restricts the rights of religious minorities in the country.

France is the first country in Europe to enact such a law which makes women, including tourists, who wear the full face veil in the street or in parks liable to a fine of 150 Euros and a citizenship course.

The law also provides more severe criminal penalties for those who are found to have forced women to wear it.

Some Muslims believe that it is a religious requirement for women to wear a full face veil such as niqab or burka. It is also considered as a cultural or traditional form of dress code by some sections of the Muslim community.

'The law represents a worrying restriction on the rights of religious minorities in France, as provided for in international law,' Carl Söderbergh, MRG's Director of Policy and Communications, says. ‘It also sends a very negative signal that a small group of women are not welcome in the country,' he added.

Religious traditions and customs are of fundamental importance to religious minorities and their way of life, whilst the freedoms of expression and religion represent two of the cornerstones of a democratic society, MRG says.

According to the BBC, only around 2,000 women belonging to France's sizeable Muslim community actually wear the niqab or burka.