By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi
ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss government urged voters on Wednesday to reject a campaign for a nationwide ban on face veils, saying any decision on facial coverings was a matter for Switzerland’s cantons individually.
But, in a counter move to a referendum to be held by 2020, the government said it would propose to voters a ban on face veils being worn by individuals while doing business with federal authorities, including in immigration offices or employment agencies.
“Regulation of public spaces in Switzerland is traditionally a cantonal matter,” the government said in a statement. “So cantons should continue to decide for themselves whether to enact a ban on facial coverings.”
In particular, it said it was down to individual cantons to decide how they handled tourists from the Arab world who wore the veil.
In September, activists submitted a petition for a nationwide ban after collecting more than the 100,000 signatures required to put the proposal to a binding referendum.
Several cantons have already taken a stand on the issue.
Zurich, Solothurn, Schwyz, Basel City and Glarus have rejected a ban on veils, while Italian-speaking Ticino has imposed a ban.
At least two demonstrators who wore veils in Ticino in defiance of the ban were fined 250 Swiss francs ($260), according to media reports.
The parliament in St. Gallen canton this year backed a ban on facial coverings which were deemed likely to endanger public security or upset the peace.
With an eye to the referendum, the federal government said it would also present a proposal to stop individuals being forced to cover their face.
“We can not allow husbands and fathers to demand their wives and daughters wear a face veil,” Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told a news conference.
(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Richard Balmforth)