Authorities in a southern Swiss province Friday handed out their first fines following the passage of a controversial new ban on Muslim women wearing veils, or burkas.
Police in Ticino ticketed two Muslim rights activists, Nora Illi, a Muslim convert, and Rachid Nekkaz, a French-Algerian businessman, US$10,000 and US$204 respectively for wearing their burkas in public. In a 2013 referendum in Ticino, an Italian-speaking region in the south of Switzerland, voters approved a fine of up to US$10,000 for wearing the traditional Muslim veil.
Nekkaz established a fund in 2011 to help women across the world who chose to wear a burka where it’s not allowed.
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Ticino is overwhelmingly Catholic and has a tiny Muslim population which makes up 2 percent of the region.
“Those who want to integrate are welcome, irrespective of their religion, but those who rebuff our values and aim to build a parallel society based on religious laws, and want to place it over our society, are not welcome,” said Giorgio Ghiringhelli, a member of Ticino’s populist party who proposed the ban in 2015.
Government officials in Ticino had collected signatures to outlaw burkas throughout Switzerland, but Swiss lawmakers ruled that such a prohibition was illegal in 2012. France became the first country in Europe to ban the face veil in 2010.
The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Bern warned citizens visiting Switzerland about the ban.
"The embassy wishes to emphasize that the Ticino cantonal authorities in southeastern Switzerland have announced that as of July 1, 2016 they will start to enforce the burka (niqab) ban in public places in the canton, including in Lugano, Locarno, Magadino, Bellinzona, Ascona and Mendrisio," said the embassy on Twitter.
"As school holidays in Saudi Arabia are coming up, the embassy reminds all honorable citizens of the necessity to respect and conform to Swiss rules and regulations in order avoid all problems."