Legal challenge to Belgian veil ban

The Belgian burqa ban is set to be challenged before the country’s constitutional court by two women who willingly wear the full-body Islamic covering, their lawyer said Friday – one day before the new law was to come into effect.

“My clients are far from being the only ones,” Ines Wouters told the German Press Agency dpa. “This is really a head-on attack on the Muslim world.”

Belgian lawmakers earlier this year approved the new law, which punishes anyone caught in public places with their face completely or partially covered – thus preventing identification – with a fine of up to 137 euros (197 dollars) and up to seven days’ imprisonment. Officials argue that the law is a matter of safety. Concerns about women being forced into wearing the burqa have also been raised.

But Wouters described the measure as disproportionate and discriminatory, arguing that it will further stigmatize the Muslim community. She said she would file her lawsuit with the constitutional court over the weekend. It calls for the burqa ban to not only be reversed, but also suspended until the court rules on the matter.

One of her clients, a Belgian woman who converted to Islam and has worn the burqa for 13 years, is no stranger to challenging such bans. She succeeded in overturning a fine in the Brussels commune of Etterbeek, which implemented a similar local ban, Wouters said. Her other client is a Moroccan woman who moved to Belgium a few years ago.

Both women are married, in their 30s and don’t consider wearing the burqa “an obligation, but a choice they make,” Wouters said.

DPA, 22 July 2011

See also Open Democracy and Deutsche Welle.