By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — A law banning the wearing of garments that cover the face in public has today come into force in France — the first European country to impose such a ban.
The ban is seen as primarily affecting women who wear the Muslim niqab or burqa in public. Those who refuse to abide by the ban could face a fine of 150 euros ($217), as well as classes in French citizenship.
Men who force women to wear the veils could also be fined and sentenced to jail. Supporters of the ban say it is necessary for security and gender equality reasons, and also upholds France’s secular system.
The ban enjoys broad public support in France.
Critics say the ban violates rights such as freedom of expression and religion, and unfairly targets Muslims.
France has Western Europe’s largest Muslim population — as many as six million people, mainly of North African origin or descent.