Reuters September 21, 2017
As less than two weeks remain until the ban on Muslim face veils comes into force in Austria, the authorities decided to inform the citizens and foreign nationals about it once again by issuing statements and distributing flyers.
The Anti-Face-Veiling Act prohibits covering facial features in public by clothes or other objects in such a way that they are no longer recognizable,” a statement, which will be included in the flyers to be distributed in airports upon arrival, as well as by police officers in public places, says.
The flyers, which include four languages – German, English, Arabic, and Turkish – will also warn both Austrian nationals and tourists that those violating the new law face fines of up to €150 (US$178).
The Austrian Interior Ministry also issued a similar statement on its website. The law is set to go into effect on October 1. According to the statement, “all places, which can be accessed at all times or at certain times by a group of people not limited beforehand, including transport facilities such as bus, rail, air or maritime traffic,” are considered to be public and come under the provisions of the law.
The statement also says that those found in violation of the law will be obliged to remove their face veils at the request of police, or be “taken to a police station by a police officer.”
Officers will be forbidden, however, to remove face veils by force.
The legislation, which is commonly referred to as a ‘burqa ban,’ also covers other headwear. People wearing balaclavas, covering their faces with scarves, or even wearing medical masks without sufficient reason could also be found in violation of the new law, according to the Wiener Zeitung.
The law exempts those covering their faces due to medical or safety reasons, as well as due to hazardous weather conditions such as smog. Participants of street carnivals and other “artistic, cultural or traditional events” are also exempted, along with athletes requiring face-covering gear.
Austria approved the ban on full face veils in May as part of a larger ‘integration law,’ which the foreign ministry says is aimed at encouraging people to assimilate into Austrian culture.
“People are not judged by their country of origin but by their will to contribute to Austria. The main goal of this law is to promote and call for integration,” the foreign ministry said in a March press release.
The law drew criticism after it was initially proposed, with thousands taking to the streets to protest in February, chanting slogans such as “Hey minister! Hands off my sister!”
Islam is the fastest growing religion in Austria, with around 700,000 Muslims living in the country – twice as many as in 2001, according to AFP. Almost half of those are Turks, followed by Bosnians, Chechens, Syrians, and Afghans.
Austria was also the first European country to recognize Islam as an official religion, but Vienna city councilor Omar al-Rawi told AFP on Thursday that today’s political parties always address Islam “in a negative context.”