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Switzerland’s new law bans all face coverings, does not target Muslims specifically

Most media reports carry skewed narratives on new law

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Claim: Switzerland has banned burqas in public places and imposed a $1,100 fine on anyone violating the law.

Fact: Switzerland’s latest law bans all face coverings, including ski masks and bandannas that are worn by some protesters, and not just the burqas and niqabs worn by Muslim women. The law also does not prohibit anyone from wearing the hijab. Therefore the claim is misleading.

On 22 September 2023, the Facebook page, ‘Knowledge Beyond Belief’ posted (archive) a visual showing a small municipality of Sweden with the Swiss flag, a No Entry sign superimposed on the face of a woman wearing a niqab, and the following text:

“BURQA BAN? Switzerland has banned burqas in public places & fine of $1100 (₹90,000) placed on violator of the rule.”

The picture in the visual shows “local houses in the centre of Zermatt town in the Valais canton of Switzerland”, photographed by Andrey Khrobostov on 15 July 2019. The image is available (archive) on the British photography agency, Alamy.

₹ is the symbol for the Indian rupee, indicating that the Facebook page, ‘Knowledge Beyond Belief’ which has over 38,000 followers, is based in India — specifically Indore in the state of Madhya Pradesh, according to the information available on the page.

The Swiss Parliament passed the proposal for the ban by 151 votes to 29, and 6 abstentions.

Fact or Fiction?

Soch Fact Check searched for articles on the recent ruling and found credible reports on The Associated Press (archive) and Bloomberg (archive).

The AP reported that the ban — given the final legislative passage by the lower house of Switzerland’s parliament — applies to all face coverings. Amongst the examples given are “the burqas worn by some Muslim women” but the ban also includes coverings like “ski masks and bandannas that are worn by some protesters”, the publication wrote.

“The measure prohibits covering the nose, mouth and eyes in both public spaces and private buildings accessible to the public, though it does allow for some exceptions,” the AP added.

According to Bloomberg, the ban “applies to all garments that cover a person’s full face”, but there are exceptions such as “wearing coverings at places of worship, to protect one’s health, such as a face mask, or during carnival celebrations”.

While numerous outlets and social media posts claimed that the move is an attempt to target the Muslim community, the law does not specifically impose a ban on the burqa or other forms of cover adopted by Muslims.

Swissinfo, part of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, ran the headline, “Hiding your face in public will be banned in Switzerland,” writing that the ban “prohibits hiding one’s face in public, under penalty of a fine”.

“Eyes, nose and mouth must be visible, in all public or private spaces accessible to the public. Exceptions are provided for planes, consular or religious premises,” it added.

Radio Télévision Suisse, also a Swiss media outlet, termed the restriction as a ban on “facial concealment”, saying, “Exceptions are planned in particular for planes, consular or religious premises. Or even wearing a hood on the ski slopes or a health mask.”

Soch Fact Check also reached out to the Swiss National Council’s secretariat, which responded by directing us to a link of the transcription of the parliamentary debate on the said bill.

What does the law say?

The draft of the Swiss federal law banning face coverings is known as ‘Bundesgesetz über das Verbot der Verhüllung des Gesichts (BVVG)’ in German, meaning ‘The Federal law on the Ban on Covering the Face’, and ‘Loi fédérale sur l’interdiction de se dissimuler le visage (LIDV)’ in French, meaning ‘The Federal Law on the Prohibition of Concealing the Face’. It is available here and the full details of the process that started from 12 October 2022 can be found here.

The parliamentary debate was held in the eighth meeting of the Swiss National Council’s Fall 2023 session on 20 September 2023. The law was passed with 151 in favour, 29 against, and six abstentions.

Passed with 151 in favour, 29 against it, and six abstentions, the approved law — available here in German and here in French — as of 29 September 2023, states the following:

The Federal Assembly of the Swiss Confederation, based on Article 123 paragraph 1 of the Federal Constitution (BV), after reviewing the Federal Council’s message of 12 October 2022, decides:

Article 1: Subject and Scope

  • This law regulates the implementation of the ban on covering of one’s face (Article 10a BV).
  • The law does not apply:
  • on board civil aircraft at home and abroad;
  • in premises that serve diplomatic and consular traffic or are used for official purposes by institutional beneficiaries in accordance with Article 2 paragraph 1 of the Host State Law of June 22, 2007.

Article 2: Prohibition of covering the face

  • It is forbidden to cover or hide one’s face in public or private places that are open to the general public for paid or free use in such a way that facial features cannot be recognised.
  • Facial coverings are exempt from the ban:
  • in places of worship;
  • to protect and restore one’s health or the health of others;
  • to ensure personal safety;
  • to protect against climatic conditions;
  • to maintain local customs;
  • in artistic and entertainment performances;
  • for advertising purposes.
  • Provided that public safety and order are not impaired, the competent authority may also authorise face coverings in public places if:
  • face covering is necessary to exercise the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly for one’s own protection; or
  • covering the face is a form of visual expression of opinion.

Article 3: Penal provision

  • Anyone who violates the ban under Article 2 will be punished with a fine of up to 1,000 francs.
  • Prosecution is the responsibility of the cantons.

Article 4: Amendment to another decree

The Administrative Fines Act of March 18, 2016, is amended as follows:

Article 1 Paragraph 1 Line No. 18

  • Anyone who commits an offence that:
  • is listed in one of the following laws:
  1. Federal law of 29 September 2023 on the ban on covering the face; or

Article. 5 Referendum and entry into force

1 This law is subject to an optional referendum.

2 The Federal Council determines the entry into force.

Virality

Soch Fact Check conducted a CrowdTangle analysis for the 25-day period from 1 September 2023 to 25 September using the following search terms:

  • “Switzerland burqa ban”
  • “Switzerland niqab ban”

Searching the first phrase yielded 47 Facebook posts and 19 Instagram posts, with over 1,200 and 295,000 interactions, respectively. Search-results for the second phrase did not show a significant number of Facebook posts but did turn up close to 5,000 interactions across just three Instagram posts.

Some of the Facebook and Instagram posts can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The misleading claim was also carried by the Middle East Eye, with the headline, “Switzerland parliament approves burqa ban” (archive). Other publications also reported misleadingly here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Pakistani Urdu-language media outlets Aaj News, Voice of Sindh, Daily Aaj Digital, Intekhab Online, Independent Urdu, Qaumi Awaz, and ARY News also published misleading reports here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. These were shared on social media here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Other notable outlets included Daily Jasarat, Neo News, and Express News.

A website and Facebook page apparently run by journalist Javed Chaudhry also shared the news here and here, respectively.

Urdu-language foreign outlets Al Arabiya Urdu and Kuwait Urdu News carried the claim in their reports here and here; the publications shared it on Facebook here and here.

Conclusion: Switzerland’s latest law bans all face coverings, including ski masks and bandannas that are worn by some protesters. It does not specifically target burqas and niqabs worn by Muslim women. The law also does not prohibit anyone from wearing the hijab. Therefore, the claim is misleading.


Background image in cover photo: Meizhi Lang


To appeal against our fact-check, please send an email to appeals@sochfactcheck.com

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