France’s lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban wearing the Islamic full veil in public. There were 335 votes for the bill and only one against in the 557-seat National Assembly. It must now be ratified by the Senate in September to become law.
Many of the opposition Socialists, who originally wanted the ban limited only to public buildings, abstained from voting after coming under pressure from feminist supporters of the bill. President Nicolas Sarkozy has backed the ban as part of a wider debate on French identity but critics say the government is pandering to far-right voters. After the vote, Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said it was a victory for democracy and for French values.
The bill would make it illegal to wear garments such as the niqab or burqa, which incorporate a full-face veil, anywhere in public. It envisages fines of 150 euros for women who break the law and 30,000 euros and a one-year jail term for men who force their wives to wear the burqa.
Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, a government advisory body, has supported taking steps to discourage women from wearing the full veil but has said a legal ban would stigmatise a vulnerable group.