April 28, 2011
Today, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives voted a ‘burqa ban’. It did the same thing a year ago, but the unexpected fall of the government prevented the law from entering into force then, as the bill had been evoked by the Senate. This time, it is for real.
The text introduces in the criminal code a new provision, article 563bis, creating a new offence:
“Will be punished with a fine of 15 to 25 Euro and/or detention of 1 to 7 days, those who, except for contrary legal provisions, are present in places that are accessible to the public with their faces completely or partially covered or hidden, such as not to be recognizable.”
Exceptions are added for workplace regulations and police regulations regarding festivities.
The fines in the criminal code currently have to be multiplied by a factor that is currently 5,5, hence the maximum fine is 137,5 Euro.
I am a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives and the only Deputy (out of 150) to vote against the bill (2 Deputies abstained).
While for all government-initiated bills the advice of the legislative section of the Council of State (regarding amongst others the conformity with the Constitution and international law) is mandatory, this is optional for bills tabled by members of parliament; the request for a referral to the Council of State was rejected by all but one parliamentary group (note: in France, the Council of State issued a very critical advice on the ‘burqa ban’)
Similarly, a request by Amnesty International and two women’s rights organizations to organize hearings with civil society, obtained the support of only one group.
It is to be expected that the law will be challenged before Belgium’s Constitutional Court.
For an analysis of the ban from an ECHR perspective, see the previous post “Would a Niqab and Burqa ban pass the Strasbourg test?” written by my research team members Lourdes, Stijn and Saïla.