Austrian full-face veil ban condemned as a failure by police

An Austrian ban on full-face coverings introduced as part of an “integration” policy aimed at limiting the visibility of orthodox Islam in public life has been criticised by police after it emerged that the law has mainly resulted in the issuing of warnings against people wearing smog masks, skiing gear and animal costumes.

Figures published by the weekly news magazine Profil on Monday show that 29 charges citing the “anti-face-veiling act” have been filed with police since the law came into force last October.

Research shows that only four of these charges concerned a face being covered by a veil – all of which were levelled at the same woman.

In other instances, police issued warnings against people covering their faces with scarves, skiing masks or animal costumes. In the Tyrol, six charges were filed because of people wearing “winter clothing”, while a number of Asian tourists were requested to remove their smog masks at Vienna’s Schwechat airport.

In late October, police in Vienna interrupted a camera crew filming outside the Austrian parliament and forced a man dressed as the rabbit Lesko, the official mascot of the parliament’s youth outreach scheme, to remove his bright-blue mask with furry ears.

The same month, a man dressed as a shark to promote the opening of a branch of the Apple retailer McShark was also forced to remove his headgear.

“If this law was intended as a contribution in the fight against conservative Islam, then I can only say: it’s gone belly up,” Hermann Greylinger of the Austrian police union told Profil, adding that many police officers were declining to actively enforce the law.

In January, the Austrian interior minister, Herbert Kickl, the creator of numerous anti-Islam campaign slogans for his rightwing populist Freedom party, confirmed that only two arrests had been carried out under the legislation. He declined to release further statistics on the impact of the law.

The two coalition parties of Austria’s previous, social-democrat-led government had in 2017 voted in a ban on full-face veils such as the niqab in courts and schools, as part of a raft of “integration” measures.

At the time, Muslim associations criticised the ban, suggesting that no more than about 150 women in Austria wore full veils.

A similar ban has been place in France and Belgium since 2011, the Netherlands introduced a partial ban in 2015, and the German parliament voted last September to ban face coverings while driving.

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