Burqas in Malta: Minister says people should not cover their face

Equality minister Helena Dalli says law prohibiting individuals from covering their face in public needs to be clarified, argues people should not be allowed to cover face in public if it will make others feel unsafe.

Equality minister Helena Dalli has hinted that the government may ban the wearing of burqas in public after she argued that the law which prohibits individuals from covering their face in public should be clarified to avoid any misinterpretation.

Speaking on Facebook, Dalli said that in an open society, people should not be allowed to cover their face in public if this will make others feel unsafe or fearing their security. Without elaborating, the minister also said this should be banned “for other reasons.”

Worn by female Muslims, the burqa is an outer garment that is used to cover women’s bodies in public. Despite the wearing of the burqa not being as common in Malta as other European countries, a photo of a female driver while wearing a full-face veil fuelled a discussion that had been raging across Europe. The discussion subsequently saw Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi weigh in on the debate.

In comments to MaltaToday, Azzopardi had said that the issue was about consistence of the laws, social cohesion, and security issues, and that the issue requires a 'rational debate'.

“So if the law clearly wants visual recognition for obvious reasons, does the wearing of a burqa walk hand in hand with this prohibition or go counter? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” Azzopardi had argued.

Following suit, civil liberties and social dialogue minister Helena Dalli said the law, which prohibits anyone from wearing a mask or from disguising his or her face in public, must be clarified to avoid any misinterpretation.

“We can enjoy our rights provided that these do not impinge the rights of others. I should not have a right to go out with my face covered if this right impinges others from enjoying security,” the minister said.

Dalli said that despite the criminal code effectively prohibiting anyone from disguising his or her face in public, a decision taken by the previous Nationalist administration had issued a directive to the police not to stop people wearing a burqa in public.

“It is not a contravention to wear a full-face veil because of religious beliefs,” home affairs minister Carmelo Abela told parliament this week. Notwithstanding this, the Police, however, can order the removal of a veil if they have reasonable suspicion that the individual planned on committing a crime.

Similarly, Transport Minister Joe Mizzi told Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi that Transport Malta “presently” has no policies about drivers wearing a burqa or a niqab.

Across Europe, the debate on the wearing of the burqa and other full-face veils had raged after a 24-year-old French woman of Pakistani origin took the French court to the European Court of Human Rights following the latter’s 2010 ban on covering their face in a public place.

The Strasbourg court ruled that France’s ban did not constitute a violation of the woman’s right to respect for private and family life, no breach of her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and no breach of the prohibition of discrimination.

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