A ban on face-covering clothing in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino has affected masked football supporters the most. Hardly any wearers of burkas or niqabs, the original targets of the ban, have been fined.
In 2013, two-thirds of Ticino’s voters approved an initiativeexternal link forbidding people to wear clothing that covers the face. Those who did could face a fine of at least CHF100 ($100). The legislation does not specifically mention burkas or Muslims, but states that “nobody in public streets or squares may veil or hide their face”. Hijabs, or headscarves, are allowed.
Exceptions to the ban, which came into force in July 2016, were made for health reasons (hospital masks), safety (motorbike helmets), weather (ski masks) or for local festivals (traditional masks).
On Tuesday, figures released by the department of justice show that since July 2016 there had been 37 legal proceedings and a few warnings had been handed out.
In the first half of 2018, around ten people were added to a register after being caught with their faces masked. The number of veiled women in the first two years could be counted on one hand, the authorities said. Most of these cases did not concern Arab tourists but Swiss women, including a Swiss convert who travelled to Ticino with the intent of being fined and attracting media attention.
The authorities say they are satisfied with the situation, explaining that it’s not about fining as many people as possible but maintaining the safety and values of canton Ticino.
A ban on face-covering clothing is also currently an issue at the national level.
On June 27, the Federal Council said it opposed a rightwing campaign for a nationwide banexternal link on facial coverings in public, the latest twist in a Europe-wide crackdown on burkas championed by far-right activists who cast Muslims and Islam as a threat.
The Swiss cabinet said individual cantons should decide on the matter, which nevertheless will go to a nationwide vote under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy after activists last year gathered the 100,000 signatures required.
Measures against the wearing of Islamic veils have already been taken in Belgium, France, Denmark and Spain, among others, with the Netherlands passing its own ban two months ago.
The Swiss government suggested instead adopting laws that would prevent people from covering their faces when dealing with officials and punish anyone who forced women to conceal their faces with up to three years in jail.
“The government is aware that facial coverings can lead to problems. With its proposals it suggests targeted and specific legal measures in areas in which it has authority,” the Federal Council said.
“The initiative would make it impossible to take into account the individual cantons’ differing sensitivities, in particular removing their ability to determine for themselves how they wish to treat tourists from Arab states who wear facial coverings,” it added.