The life of Selema has changed drastically in the last few days. Since Saturday July 23, she began breaking the law after a ban on wearing the full Islamic veil came into full force in Belgium.
Fearing prosecution Selema refused to give her real name while speaking to us in our Brussels bureau. Despite that, she remained covered from head to toe in her Niqab, insisting the new law breached her human rights.
‘‘As nobody forced me to put this on I don’t understand why I’m being made to take it off. I will no longer be a free woman. I’ll be imprisoned by this law. We shouldn’t be penalised because of a choice of clothes. I am the mother of a growing family, I also have responsibilities outside my home. It is important that things change, that this new law is abolished,’‘ she said.
Selema is not alone in thinking that. Two other women in Belgium, who wear full veils, have launched legal action challenging the new law on discrimination grounds. Their lawyer says they have a strong case.
‘‘We expect this law to be struck down because a number of core freedoms are in danger. Freedom of religion, protection of privacy. This law on dress affects everyone, not just Muslim women, even though they are the target. Freedom of expression, movement, religion and personal freedom are the freedoms on which Europe is built on,’‘ Inès Wouters said.
The law in Belgium, which follows a similar measure in France passed in April, prevents someone’s identity being obscured by clothing in public places. Offenders face a fine of 137.5 euros or even up to a week in jail if they re-offend.
Despite critics saying the ban is over the top as so few women in Belgium actually wear the full veil, others defend the move.
Denis Ducarme, a Belgian Member of Parliament, says: ‘‘We think in terms of security it is completely unacceptable to see a certain number of masked figures in the street who are unidentifiable. That is the first point. The second thing is we believe there has to be equality between men and women.’‘
Reporting from Brussels euronews’ Galina Polonskaya says: ‘‘The fear of being fined or going to prison. Those who cannot or won’t change their dress prefer to stay home. They await a Constitutional Court decision. The first hearing is in September.’‘
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