In Brief

Niqab and burka ban comes into force in part of Switzerland

First fines handed out in canton of Ticino as duo defy controversial law

Muslim women in a region of Switzerland face large fines for wearing a full-face veil after a ban on burqas and niqabs came into effect last week.

A Swiss woman who converted to Islam and a French-Algerian businessman have already been fined for defying the Ticino canton law, Swiss Info reports. The pair were publicly protesting the ban.

The Italian-speaking region, which is predominantly Roman Catholic, voted in favour of the controversial law in 2013. It allows police to hand out fines of nearly £8,000, according to the Daily Telegraph.

No exceptions will be made for tourists and the Saudi Arabian embassy has already warned Muslim women travelling to the region to respect the law.

Amnesty International described the vote as a "black day for human rights in Ticino" and a recent report accused European governments of "pandering to prejudice" by supporting bans on Islamic dress.

It follows a similar move in France, which in 2011 became the first European country to outlaw the full-face veil. Though hugely controversial, the law was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.

The veil has become a divisive issue across Europe, with those in favour of a ban arguing that it is oppressive to women and creates a barrier between them and the rest of society.

But human rights organisations describe such laws as religious discrimination and many Muslim women argue it is patronising and offensive to say they are not free to make their own choices.

"It's as if the female, as an adult individual, is obviously ill-equipped to make such decisions on her own," says columnist Faraz Talat.

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