By Mariya Cheresheva
The wearing of garments that cover the face will be fined in Bulgaria according to a new bill that MPs adopted on Friday.
Bulgarian MPs on Friday banned the wearing of veils that cover the face – a bill proposed earlier this year by the nationalistic coalition, Patriotic Front. The so-called “burqa ban” was passed on a second reading with overwhelming support.
In a sign of ethnic tension over the issue, MPs from the ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, MRF, left the plenary session, calling the bill “anti-democratic” and “islamophobic”. They wanted the vote dropped from the parliamentary agenda.
Under the new law, wearing garments or masks that cover the face in public will be fined with 200 leva, around 100 euros, for a first offence and with 1,500 leva, around 750 euros, for any subsequent violation.
Offenders who are public servants will be fined 500 leva, around 250 euros, for the first violation and 2,000 leva, around 1,000 euros, in case of subsequent ones.
The ban covers Bulgarian citizens and temporary residents and migrants from other countries. They will also not be allowed to wear clothing that hides their face partially or totally on the territory of the country.
The ban will be enforced in all public spaces, including parks, gardens, schools, and on public and private transport.
Exceptions may be made only for medical or professional reasons as well as during sporting and cultural events.
Citizens will be allowed to cover their faces only in their own homes or in places of worship.
The police and the municipal authorities will be in charge of enforcing the ban.
Ceyhan Ibryamov, from the MRF, told MPs before his party left the chamber that the ban would be counter-productive.
“This law hurts security. It gives grounds for revenge-seeking, radical and morbid forces to seek instruction and revenge,” he said.
He added that ban had been passed under the pressure of ultranationalists as part of pre-election bargaining manoeuvres.
But MPs from the main party in government, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB, backed the proposal.
“We have made a very good law for the security of our children,” Krasimir Velchev, from GERB, said after the bill was adopted.
The nationwide ban follows series of bans adopted at local level in Bulgaria.
The southern city of Pazardjik, where the Salafist ideology has gained significant influence over the local Muslim community, pioneered the ban in April.
Several others towns and cities have since followed Pazardjik’ example and banned the veil.
The debate on the burqa, niqab and other facial covers gained momentum after Bulgaria’s Prosecutor General, Sotir Tsatsarov, said he favoured a ban on April 1.
“Religious freedoms should not be trodden on but we should not allow religious motives to be used for illegal propaganda, political purposes and radicalization,” Tsatsarov said in Pazardjik.
Intensified terrorist attacks in Europe in 2015 and 2016, as well as the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, have led to an increase of anti-Muslim rhetoric in Bulgaria.