German MPs approve partial burka ban and tighter security measures
German lawmakers on Thursday approved a partial ban on the full-face burka Islamic veil and a package of security measures aimed at preventing extremist attacks. The new laws follow several jihadist attacks, including a truck rampage through a Berlin Christmas market that claimed 12 lives and come ahead of September elections.
The new law on facial coverings falls short of a total ban in public places demanded by right-wing parties, like that in effect in neighbouring France since 2011. The prohibition will apply to public servants – including election officials, military and judicial staff – performing their duties.
"The state has a duty to present itself in an ideologically and religiously neutral manner," says the text of the law passed by the lower house in the evening.
Clothing controversy – the headscarf debate in Germany
For years now, the wearing of headscarves and veils for religious reasons has been the periodic focus of debates and conflicts in public life. We present the key phases of the headscarf debate in Germany.
1961: The Federal Republic and Turkey reach a labour recruitment agreement. Millions of Turks come to Germany as guest workers in the decades that follow – most of them remain. This also introduces Germany society to the headscarf as a feature of female Muslim attire
2002: In its Islam Charter, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany commits to the constitution while at the same time demanding a dignified life for Muslims in the Federal Republic. The Council says that this includes the wearing of the headscarf
2003: The Federal Constitutional Court upholds the ruling of the Federal Labour Court in Erfurt of 2002, which says there are insufficient grounds to dismiss someone for wearing a headscarf for religious reasons in a non-governmental place of work
2003: After years of legal wrangling, the Constitutional Court rules with five votes to three in the case of Fereshta Ludin that a female Muslim teacher cannot be prohibited from wearing a headscarf during tuition without a specific law. This puts the onus on state parliaments to legislate on the matter and in the years that follow, these enact differing regulations
2004: The European Court of Human Rights deals with the headscarf issue for the first time and upholds the ban imposed by Turkish training institutions. The judges in Strasbourg reject the complaint that the law violates the right to religious freedom and the right to freedom of expression
2011: The Federal Labour Court in Erfurt rules that the wearing of a cap in school can be regarded as a religious statement and may therefore be banned. The court goes on to say that the head covering "is evidently being worn as a substitute for an Islamic headscarf". The case is taken to Karlsruhe
2015: The Federal Constitutional Court throws out a blanket headscarf ban for female Muslim teachers in public schools. A ban is only possible, it says, if the wearing of the Muslim head covering poses a concrete risk of causing disruption in schools
2016: The Administrative Court in Augsburg rules that the eight-year headscarf ban in Bavaria for trainee lawyers is unlawful and says that it constitutes interference in religious and educational freedom with no legal basis
Since 2015 Germany has taken in more than one million migrants and refugees, most from predominantly Muslim countries. This has stoked a xenophobic backlash and boosted the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party, which has attempted to link the influx to a heightened threat of terrorism.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the social integration of immigrants requires "that we make clear and communicate our values and the limits of our tolerance to other cultures".
The ban on full facial coverings allows exceptions – for example, for health workers protecting themselves against infections or police officers concealing their identity. People can also be required to remove facial coverings in order to match them with their identity papers.
New security measures also include the use of electronic ankle bracelets, if approved by a judge, for people deemed a security threat, in federal police cases – such as known Islamic radicals considered potentially violent by security services.
Another law paves the way for national and state police forces to pool their data in a new integrated IT system.
Under another new measure, Germany will implement EU rules on the exchange of flight passenger data to counter terrorism and serious crime. And physical attacks on police, emergency services and military personnel on duty will in future be punished more severely, with up to five years' jail.
The reforms follow the December 19 truck attack in Berlin claimed by the Islamic State group. The suspect, 24-year-old Tunisian national Anis Amri, was shot dead four days later by Italian police.
The Amri case sparked public anger after it emerged he had already been in the crosshairs of security services and should long ago have been sent back to Tunisia, which for months refused to take him.
National and state police and security services had monitored Amri for months, knowing that he had used multiple identities and addresses and had been in contact with radical Islamists. (AFP)
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