Australia ban on burqa in its Parliament irks rights' groups

(Photo: REUTERS / Daniel Munoz)A police officer gestures to a woman wearing a burqa near the venue where controversial Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilders is scheduled to speak in the Sydney suburb of Liverpool February 22, 2013. Security at the function center was tight for Wilders, who speaks against the spread of Islam across the world.

Burqa-clad women who wish to observe Parliament will be made to sit in separate glass-enclosed public galleries, the Australia's Department of Parliamentary Services has said.

The security measures were announced on October 2 while Parliament's Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Senate President Stephen Parry awaited security officials' advice on a request from Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi to ban the burqa from being worn inside the building.

The move follows a debate among lawmakers whether women should be allowed to wear a burqa in Parliament House in Canberra, Australia's capital city.

A burqa is an covering outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions.

Some conservative lawmakers have pushed for a total public ban.

Senator Bernardi said the burqa is a symbol of oppression and is un-Australian.

But the banning of the religious face covering is based on security reasons. Senator Parry said that one of the reasons for the ban is to identify quickly anyone who interjects from the gallery so that they can be removed easily.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott admitted that he has never seen anyone in a full face covering entering the Parliament House.

But Senator Bernardi told Fairfax Media his concerns were prompted after seeing a group of veiled individuals in the building three years ago.


Many people condemned the new rule including federal human rights and race discrimination commissioners.

Race discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane told Fairfax Media that the ruling would give a different treatment to Muslim women. "No-one should be treated like a second class citizen, not least in the Parliament," he said.

Human rights commissioner Tim Wilson said that the "need for separate treatment in the Federal Parliament for people who wear face covering is completely unjustified and unnecessary."

Greens leader Christine Milne said in a tweet that the decision was disgraceful.

She wrote to Bishop and Senator Parry urging them to reject the proposal for a burqa ban at Parliament House saying that the ruling would inflame cultural divisions.

The Senator added that Parliament should be "led by example and bring all members of our community together. We won't make Australians safer by marginalizing and attacking people."

Meanwhile, Australian Muslim Mariam Veiszadeh commented that that Parliament is confusing terminologies. She explained that what they are banning is called a niqab and not a burqa. She said that a burqa is worn in Afghanistan.

A niqab is a cloth that covers the face as a part of sartorial hijab, a veil covering the head and chest, worn by some Muslim women in public areas.

"It's incredibly irresponsible to reignite this debate at a time when community tensions are already heightened all over this country," Veiszadeh noted.

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