Bulgaria may soon become the latest European country to ban wearing a face veil as it takes the first steps to outlaw any clothing that conceals the face entirely or partially in public places.
Following in the footsteps of France and Netherlands, a total of 108 Bulgarian MPs have voted in favour of a bill, which would ban the veil, at its first reading. It was proposed by the nationalist Patriotic Front, with only eight lawmakers abstaining from voting in support of the bill, according to the Telegraph.
The new rule will restrict women from wearing niqabs or burqas in all central and local government institutions, schools, sports arena and other public relaxation places.
Bulgaria's second largest opposition party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), proposed withdrawing the bill and instead tried to include it in counter-terrorism legislation, but their suggestion was rejected.
Restrictions on Muslims covering their face with veils were already imposed in four cities in the country – Burgas, Pazardzhik, Stara Zagora and Sliven. However, a similar proposal was turned down by the local councillors in Plovdiv, the second largest city in the Balkan country.
Local media Sofia Globe reported Tuncher Kardzhaliev, an MRF MP as saying that "the bill had no value and did not solve a single major problem. The way it was drafted, it would apply not only to religious clothing, but also to beekeepers," he said.
The law will hold good for anyone living in the country temporarily, apart from Bulgarian nationals. Those who violate the ban will be fined 200 leva (£80) for the first offence, and 1500 leva and deprivation of social benefits for subsequent offences.
Besides, those who influence others to wear a face veil will face a penalty of up to three years in prison, 5000 leva and public censure, the publication reported. The penalty increases to a fine of up to 10,000 leva and a maximum of five years in prison if the person being persuaded is a minor.
About 12% of Bulgaria's population of 7.2 million are Muslims, and ethnic Turks among them rarely sport a face veil.