GENEVA — Switzerland’s executive branch on Tuesday urged voters to reject in an upcoming referendum a proposal that would ban full face-coverings like Muslim niqabs and burqas and ski masks worn by some protesters.
Nearly three years after the proposal was first floated — and long before widespread mask-wearing due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the Swiss are to take up the proposal entitled “Yes to a ban on covering the face” in the vote culminating on March 7.
It’s one of three measures on national ballots in the latest installment of regular referendums in Switzerland that give voters a direct say in policy-making. Another proposal centres on the creation of an “e-ID” to improve security in online transactions — but some privacy advocates oppose the idea.
Devised when concerns about terrorism and religious extremists were more widespread, the face covering proposal would prohibit, with a few exceptions, full covering of the face in public — taking nationwide similar bans that already exist in two regions. Other regions, known as cantons, have rejected similar proposals.
The Swiss Justice Minister, Karin Keller-Sutter, on Tuesday called the proposal “useless and contrary to our federal order that is working very well,” and noted the possibility it could hurt the economy at a time when the country’s hospitality industry has been aching because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Some cantons welcome many wealthy tourists from Arab countries,” Keller-Sutter, who is a member of Switzerland’s seven-member executive branch, told reporters in Bern, the capital. “With a ban on covering the face in all of Switzerland, these tourists could decide not to spend their vacations in Switzerland.”
The government said very few people in Switzerland wear full-face coverings and they are mostly seen on women visitors who only spend a brief time in the country.
A coalition of conservative, free-market and populist parties — including the Swiss People’s Party, which has a plurality of seats in Parliament — argues the measure is need to help curb civil unrest by protesters who cover their faces, and to battle terrorism by extremists.
“Free people show their faces,” says a campaign website.
A counter-proposal would require people to show their faces if requested to do so by authorities. The government says it has taken other steps to improve security against terrorism.
The Associated Press