, SOFIA, Oct 1 – Bulgaria banned on Friday face-covering Islamic veils in public, joining a small number of EU countries as the debate rages across Europe about religious freedoms.
Parliament approved the law that “bans wearing in public clothing that partially or completely covers the face”, referring to the burqa or the more common niqab.
Infringements carry fines of 200 leva (103 euros, $114), rising to 1,500 leva for repeated offences.
Bulgaria’s mostly centuries-old Muslim community, dating back to conversions during Ottoman times, makes up around 13 percent of the population, mostly in the Turkish minority.
Muslim women in Bulgaria have generally worn just a simple scarf to cover their hair.
But recently there has been a small rise in the number of women wearing the niqab among ultra-conservative Muslim communities of the Roma minority.
The often impoverished and marginalised Roma make up just under 10 percent of Bulgaria’s population, around a third of whom are Muslim. Several Bulgarian towns had already banned the niqab at local level.
The legislation was approved despite opposition from the MDL Turkish minority party which accused the other parties of “sowing religious intolerance”.
Rights group Amnesty International strongly criticised the ban.
“This law is part of a disturbing trend of intolerance, xenophobia and racism in Bulgaria,” the group’s Europe director John Dalhuisen said in a statement.
France and Belgium have both banned the burqa or niqab and Switzerland’s lower house this week narrowly approved a draft bill on a nationwide ban. In August Germany’s interior minister came out in favour of a partial ban.
France was also this summer embroiled in a row over bans on the burkini, a full-body Islamic swimsuit, in resorts around the Riviera.
A poll published earlier this month showed Britons to be strongly in favour of a burqa ban.