A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest outside the French embassy in London
A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest outside the French embassy in London

Amnesty International says Muslims who openly show their faith suffer widespread discrimination in Europe.

In Choice and prejudice: discrimination against Muslims, Amnestycalls on European countries to do more to challenge the negative stereotypes of Muslims, warning they can lead to human rights violations.

"Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes, " the reports says.

Areas in which Muslims are most affected by discrimination include education and employment.

"Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the headscarf. Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam," said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International's expert on discrimination.

"Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes."

The report focuses on Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland and highlights legislations that impose restrictions on the establishment of places of worship such as the ban on minarets following a 2009 referendum in Switzerland.

It also points out to moves in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain to prohibit full-face veils.

"Wearing religious and cultural symbols and dress is part of the right of freedom of expression. It is part of the right to freedom of religion or belief - and these rights must be enjoyed by all faiths equally," said Marco Perolini.

Amnesty International also accuses Belgium, France and the Netherlands of failing to properly implement laws prohibiting discrimination in employment.

The organisation warns many employers are still able to discriminate on grounds that cultural or religious symbols could hinder their company's corporate image.

"This is in direct conflict with European Union anti-discrimination legislation which allows variations of treatment in employment only if specifically required by the nature of the occupation," the report says.

"EU legislation prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in the area of employment seems to be toothless across Europe, as we observe a higher rate of unemployment among Muslims, and especially Muslim women of foreign origin," said Perolini.

Amnesty's call comes as France faces the second round of its presidential elections, on 6 May, which will see incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy facing Socialist party candidate Francois Hollande.

The result of the first round saw big gains for the far-right National Front (FN), led by Marine Le Pen, who gathered a record 18 percent of the votes.

It was more than her father and FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen took in 2002 when he won his way into the second-round run-off with 17 percent of votes.

Marine Le Pen's campaign focused on immigration and what she has called the "Islamisation of France".

Nicolas Sarkozy said recently: "I hold nothing against National Front voters.

"I say to them: I've heard you.The French don't want to be dispossessed of their way of life. That's the message I heard, and I will take to the second round of the election.

"All European leaders must hear the rise in the world of a crisis vote. I don't like the term populism," he added.

"I see this vote as a cry of suffering, the expression of revolt. I can see that on the left, they are holding their noses, they don't understand.

"Countries that succeed are those that respect the nation and national identity."