Factbox: Policy on Muslim scarves and veils in Europe

(Reuters) – France’s ban on full face veils, a first in Europe, went into force on Monday, making anyone wearing the Muslim niqab or burqa in public liable to a fine of 150 euros ($216) or lessons in French citizenship.

Here is a summary of policies in some European countries on wearing the Muslim veil:

FRANCE

France is the first country in Europe to ban full-face veils.

Under the new law, police are not allowed to ask women to remove their full-face veil in the street. They will instead be escorted to a police station and asked to remove the veil there for identification.

The law has attracted criticism from religious leaders and opposition politicians who accuse President Nicolas Sarkozy of pandering to far-right voters ahead of an election in 2012.

Almost 10 percent of France’s 62 million population are Muslim. In 2004 France banned headscarves from state primary and secondary schools under a law against conspicuous religious symbols, which also covered Jewish kippa skullcaps and large Christian crosses.

Female university students may wear headscarves that do not cover the face, since they are adults. Teachers and other civil servants may not wear any religious symbols at work.

NETHERLANDS

The Dutch minority coalition government, formed in October 2010, is under pressure from its ally, Geert Wilders’ anti-Muslim Freedom Party, to introduce a broad ban on wearing full-face veils in public places.

The minority government relies on Wilders to secure a majority in parliament, and its agreement to implement a ban was one of the conditions of Wilders’ support.

So far, the legislation has not been drawn up, but Wilders says he hopes it will be introduced this year.

The Muslim community say very few women wear the burqa, and that a general ban would heighten alienation among the Netherlands’ 1 million Muslims.

ITALY

Italy has not passed any national legislation but some towns have tried to ban burqas with local decrees.

A 1975 law provides for fines and up to two years in jail for those who cover their face with anything that prevents their identification by police.

BELGIUM

Belgium’s lower house voted a year ago in favor of banning the full veil. However, the ban has not been enacted and is on hold owing to long-term political deadlock.

TURKEY

The wearing of Islamic veils or headscarves is officially prohibited at universities in predominantly Muslim but constitutionally secular Turkey.

However, universities began taking a more permissive stance with the new academic year after the Higher Education Board, in a landmark decision last October, ordered Istanbul University, one of Turkey’s biggest, to prevent teachers expelling female students who do not comply with the ban from classrooms.

Civil servants are also banned from wearing the headscarf, which is otherwise commonly worn by many Turkish women, including the wives of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul.

A bid by the ruling AK Party government to lift the headscarf ban almost four years ago was blocked by the Constitutional Court, and almost led to the party being closed for anti-secular activities.

GERMANY

Hesse in February became the only German regional state to ban face veils for public sector workers.

Seven of Germany’s 16 states have banned teachers in state schools from wearing Islamic headscarves, angering Muslim groups, who say it discriminates against them.

A majority of Germany’s roughly 4 million Muslims are of Turkish origin.

An opinion poll last year indicated that 61 percent of Germans favored a burqa ban. Supporters include a Catholic bishop in Bavaria and also Germany’s most prominent feminist, Alice Schwarzer.

The federal interior and justice ministries oppose a ban.

(Reporting by bureau in Paris, Rome, Ankara, Berlin, Amsterdam and Brussels; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Factbox: Policy on Muslim scarves and veils in Europe