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Austria: Full-Face Veil Ban Enters Into Force

(Nov. 3, 2017) On October 1, 2017, a ban on full-face veils in public places and buildings entered into force in Austria.  According to section 1 of the Anti-Face Veil Act, the Act aims to “further integration by strengthening participation in society and by promoting peaceful coexistence in Austria.”  (Bundesgesetz über das Verbot der Verhüllung des Gesichts in der Öffentlichkeit (Anti-Gesichtsverhüllungsgesetz – AGesVG) [Act on a Ban to Cover the Face in Public (Anti-Face Veil Act)], BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] I No. 68/2017, RECHTSINFORMATIONSSYSTEM (RIS).) The ban provides that anyone who covers his or her face in public places or public buildings with clothing or other items so that it is no longer recognizable, will be subject to an administrative fine of up to €150 (about US$174). Public places and buildings include bus, rail, air, and maritime transport. (Id.)

Exceptions are allowed if the veiling or covering of the face is provided for in a federal or state law; for artistic, cultural, or traditional festivities; for sports activities; or for health or professional reasons. (Id.)

Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights have held that banning full-face veils does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights, including provisions on freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of expression; and prohibition of discrimination. (SooYun Cho & Nicolas Boring, Belgium/European Court of Human Rights: Ban on Full-Face Veil in Public Does Not Violate European Convention on Human Rights, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Aug. 30, 2017); Nicolas Boring, European Court of Human Rights; France: Recent Court Decisions on Islamic Veil Bans, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (July 11, 2014).)

Reactions

The ban drew ridicule recently when a man in a shark costume who was advertising a business in Vienna was fined under its provisions. Street musicians wearing animal masks have also been officially warned not to do so or risk being fined. These incidents prompted the Austrian police to call for a clarification of the law. (Man in Shark Head Costume Falls Foul of Austria Anti-Veil Law, BBC News (Oct. 9, 2017).)