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Finns Party MP wants fines for covering up

Opposition Finns Party MP Vesa-Matti Saarakkala has for the second time called for a ban on wearing veils that conceal the face. On Friday, Saarakkala tabled a bill calling for those appearing in public wearing a niqab or burkha to be subject to a fine. The ban would affect only a few dozen women in Finland.

Niqabia käyttävä nainen kävelee lapsen kanssa.
The burkha and niqab have been banned in public places in France. Image: Horacio Villalobos / EPA

In Saarakkala’s opinion, the matter is related to gender equality.

Saarakkala cited France, where the veil is banned, as a model. According to the MP, the banning of the burkha and the niqab is a clear statement from the government that the traditional beliefs of special groups do not take precedence over human rights.

Saarakkala has previously concerned himself with women's rights issues. Amongst other things, he has defended the right of physicians to refuse to perform abortions. Several members of his party have faced legal action over anti-immigrant comments. In 2009, MP Jussi Halla-aho was convicted of disturbing religious worship over anti-Muslim statements in a blog posting.

Earlier petitions against the veil

Saarakkala previously filed a written question to the Minister of Justice, Anna-Maja Henriksson, at the end of 2012. His submission appealed to criminal legislation against wearing a concealing mask or disguise.

According to Henriksson, dressing as one personally pleases is a constitutional freedom. The Assistant Parliamentary Ombudsman’s ruling that motorcycle gangs could wear their vests at public events was cited as an example, as dress is considered a matter of private life.

Finns Party parliamentary group chair Pirkko Ruohonen-Lerner was in no hurry to comment on the proposed ban on the burkha and niqab.

“The issue is not a matter for the parliamentary group because MPs are free to make their own legislative initiatives,” says Ruohonen-Lerner.

Yle could not reach party leader Timo Soini for comment.

Imam stumped

The Imam of the Islamic Society of Finland, Anas Hajjar, is surprised at Saarakkala’s proposal. In Finland, there are only a few dozen women who wear a burkha or niqab.

“The burkha and niqab is worn by women who want to identify with the prophet’s wife and emphasize decency,” Imam Hajjar says.

Hajjar queries why the veil has prompted such attention at present.

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