European rights court upholds Belgian bans on full-face veil

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday upheld a Belgian law and by-laws prohibiting the wearing of clothing that hides all or most of the face.

The court rejected arguments by three Muslim women who had worn the niqab, a veil covering the face except for the eyes, that their rights to privacy and freedom of conscience had been unjustifiably infringed.

The court held that bans were a proportionate measure to guarantee social conditions of “living together,” and it was legitimate for society to choose to enact them.

The decision was in line with a 2014 judgement by the Strasbourg-based court upholding a similar French law.

In 2011, Belgium introduced a law providing for fines and up to seven days’ imprisonment for anyone covering their face in a public place to the extent that they could not be identified.

The Belgian Constitutional Court upheld the law in 2012.

The court acknowledged that the ban could have a particular impact on the freedom of some Muslim women but said that that was not disproportionate taking into account the law’s objectives.

Full-face veils are common in several mainly Muslim countries and are also adopted by some particularly conservative Islamic circles elsewhere.(dpa/NAN