Muslim women to be forced to remove veils for Australian police or risk a prison sentence
Controversial laws forcing Muslim women to remove their veils for police could soon be made law in Australia.
The Australian Government believes the ban should be applied as motorists and criminal suspects need to remove any head coverings so that police can identify them.
Officials say unless people show their faces to police on request they will risk a year in jail and a huge fine.
This proposed prison term and 5,500 Australian dollar fine (£3,700) is the culmination of clashes between Muslims and the predominantly white Christian country who are unhappy at the level of immigration since the 1970s.
At first, it would apply to New South Wales, which includes Sydney, but could be adopted elsewhere.
The bill is to be voted on by the state parliament in August.
‘I don’t care whether a person is wearing a motorcycle helmet, a burqa, niqab, face veil or anything else – the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear,’ state leader Barry O’Farrell said.
The law came forward after the prosecution of Carnita Matthews, a 47-year-old Muslim mother of seven who was booked by a highway patrolman for a minor traffic violation in Sydney in June last year.
An official complaint was made in Matthews’ name against Senior Constable Paul Fogarty, the policeman who gave her the ticket.
The complaint accused Fogarty of racism and of attempting to tear off her veil during their roadside encounter.
Unknown to Matthews, the encounter was recorded by a camera inside Fogarty’s squad car.
The video footage showed her aggressively berating a restrained Fogarty and did not support her claim that he tried to grab her veil before she reluctantly and angrily lifted it to show her face.
The new law has been condemned by civil libertarians and many Muslims as an overreaction to a traffic offence case involving a Muslim woman driver in a ‘niqab,’ or a veil that reveals only the eyes.
In a population of 23 million, about 400,000 Australians are Muslim and fewer than 2,000 women wear face veils.
‘It does seem to be very heavy handed, and there doesn’t seem to be a need,’ said Australian Council for Civil Liberties spokesman David Bernie. ‘It shows some cultural insensitivity.’
The controversy over the veils is similar to the debate in other Western countries over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear garments that hide their faces in public.
In France, wearing a burqa in public is punishable by a 150 Euro fine after the ban was brought in during April.
‘It is a religious issue here,’ said Mouna Unnjinal, a mother of five who has been driving in Sydney in a niqab for 18 years and has never been booked for a traffic offence.
‘We’re going to feel very intimidated and our privacy is being invaded,’ she added.
Unnjinal said she would not hesitate to show her face to a policewoman.
But she fears male police officers might misuse the law to deliberately intimidate Muslim women.
‘If I’m pulled over by a policeman, I might say I want to see a female police lady and he says, ‘No, I want to see your face,” Unnjinal said. ‘Where does that leave me? Do I get penalised 5,000 dollars and sent to jail for 12 months because I wouldn’t?’ daily mail