Businessman and activist Rachid Nekkaz has said he will pay the fines that burka-wearing Muslims in St Gallen incur for breaking the canton’s recent ban on facial coverings in public.
Nekkaz arrived in St Gallen's capital city of the same name on Wednesday, accompanied by a woman wearing a niqab. He said in a statement given outside the Hotel de Ville that all women should have the right, on the basis of religious freedom, to veil their faces, and that authorities should respect this freedom.
Nekkaz, a wealthy Algerian entrepreneur born in France, also paid four fines in canton Ticino, the first Swiss canton to forbid the burka, in 2016. Although he has described himself as being against burkas themselves, Nekkaz, who has also paid the fines of Algerian human rights activists, says he does defend the right to wear them.
Since 2010, Nekkaz said he has paid 1,553 fines in six European countries, including Switzerland, for a total of EUR 318,000 (CHF362,563), according to Swiss News Agency SDA-ATS.
St Gallen citizens approved the cantonal ban on burkas and facial coverings in public places on September 23. Cantonal police will now have the discretion to decide whether a person whose face is covered “threatens or endangers public safety or the religious or social peace”. However, as of August, very few people external linkhad faced any legal proceedings due to the ban in Ticino, five years after its enactment.