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Australian Women Who Don’t Show Their Face to Police Could Be Jailed

Australian Women Who Don’t Show Their Face to Police Could Be Jailed

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, approved a law which allows police to demand that Muslim women remove face veils and other coverings.  The additional powers are said to be necessary so that police can establish the woman’s identity, but the law is already being criticized by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  The police association of New South Wales said that the law was removing a “loophole,” and that it would “provide clarity and certainty for both the public and for police officers.”  Civil liberties organizations, however, are concerned that the law gives too much power to the police.

Under the previous law, a woman could be asked to remove her facial covering if she was suspected of a serious crime, but now, police can require her to remove her veil regardless of the severity of the offense.  Women who refuse to unveil could face up to a year in prison and a fine of 5,500 Australian dollars (around $5,900).

The legislation was created in response to a high-profile case last year involving a woman wearing a garment that left only her eyes uncovered.  She was convicted of falsely accusing an officer of trying to remove her burqa during a random breath test, but an appeal judge later ruled that she had to be freed, because since the woman who made the complaint was wearing a burqa, it was impossible to know her identity for sure.

Members of the Muslim community have said that they would comply with the regulations, but only if the requests to remove face veils were made sensitively.  Muslim authorities said that there was nothing in the Qur’an or the hadith forbidding women to remove their veils for a police officer.  For example, women have said that they would have no qualms unveiling in front of a female police officer, but they feel unsure that such a request would be honored.

“If I’m pulled over by a policeman, I might say I want to see a female police lady and he says, ‘No, I want to see your face,’” one woman explained. “Where does that leave me? Do I get penalized 5,000 dollars and sent to jail for 12 months because I wouldn’t?”

Like in France, another country with restrictions on Muslim women’s full-body veils, women who choose to wear the burqa or niqab are a tiny segment of the population.  Of Australia’s 400,000 Muslims (who themselves are only about 2 percent of the total population), only 2,000 women wear face veils.  Many are asking whether it’s necessary to impose such stringent requirements on an issue that affects so few people.  Others are questioning whether, as in other places, the veil is being legally targeted to indicate hostility toward the country’s Muslims.  One lawyer pointed out that police officers can only ask women whose faces are covered to remove their coverings, not veils that merely cover the hair.

In any case, it will be telling once the law goes into place, to see whether any women are fined or jailed.  That will indicate whether there’s a need for the law, but also whether it’s being unjustly enforced.

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Photo from Steve Evans via Wikimedia Commons.

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203 comments

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9:08PM PDT on Jul 10, 2012

Either take the burka off or don't drive. Their vision is obscured anyway. How did she get a licence? Can we prove that the woman going for the test is who she says she is?
This case was an absolute disgrace, kudos to the policeman who kept his cool throughout it. Thankfully the camera on the police car caught the scene. This nasty spiteful woman could have lost the man his career The Muslim community were right there backing her up touting the usual police picking on us line. She should have been charged for perjury and the appeal judge for stupidity.

10:37AM PDT on Sep 22, 2011

the real problem is that without knowing who that person is under that veil, it could be a man. Or that person could conceal weapons under such a large piece of material. Women in muslim countries are too scared to go that far. But in other countries women are not outright murdered for violating the law, so women could be used by muslim men to hide their weapons for them.

11:07PM PDT on Sep 21, 2011

You cannot have one rule for one section of society and different rules for another. In the course of their work, police need to able to identify people - kind of difficult without seeing their face!

4:05AM PDT on Aug 15, 2011

i'm 'leaning yes'. I enjoy multiculturalism , however I understand there may be a serious crime where a female officer is not present, so accommodating to the religion at the time seems too problematic.

9:02PM PDT on Aug 7, 2011

I've lready stated my views, and yes, agree completely with Renata, Annmari & Kye, except for the "banning of all religion" thing. Yes, we have "separation of church & state", but we also have freedom not only FROM religion, but freedom OF religion. Sure, let Muslim women practice their religion in other countries, such as the U.S. and Australia, but do not give them SPECIAL privileges such as being allowed to hide their identities when in public and refusing to abide by the same rules as everyone else.

3:10AM PDT on Aug 7, 2011

I live in Australia in the state of New South Wales and I am very happy about this law.This is Australia and we are a western country and are NOT the middle east.If the muslims dont like it here and don't want to abide by our laws well they can go back to where they came from.Adapt to the country in which you live or leave!!
If I choose to travel to a middle eastern country then I have to abide by their laws.

2:56AM PDT on Aug 7, 2011

I voted No. If I'm stopped by the police I can't demand to see a female officer. Why separate rules and laws for a religious fundamentalist group whose homecountries don't give ME the freedom of choice? Why should I comply to their weird rules about male domination? I support NSW, France and Quebec on this issue and hope the rest of the world will follow suit. For too long we have adjusted to religious orders, may they be xtians, muslim, hindu, jewish. It's time to put our feet down and demand they respect our laws and traditions and quit whining about discrimination and being insulted when asked to do what's required by all of us!
Ban all religion and we have a way better chance of changing our world into a far better place than it is now.

7:02AM PDT on Aug 4, 2011

the police should go & throw the husband in jail, should a woman wear a mask in public .. plus $500 fine or 2 weeks in jail .. don't pass go, do not collect $200 .. go directly to jail. lol

3:51AM PDT on Aug 4, 2011

Let us not forget that Western women in Muslim countries can be jailed just for driving a car! Even if they respect all the rules! The usual double-standard!!!!

1:44AM PDT on Aug 3, 2011

Voted Yes.

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