The controversial Federal Law on the Prohibition of the Concealing the face was approved by the Swiss National Council on Wednesday, 151-29.
The legislation implements the March 2021 referendum in which 51% of Swiss citizens approved an outright ban on hiding one’s faces in public. The right-wing Swiss People’s Party initiated the initiative to ban hiding faces in public or private areas accessible to the general public. Offenders face a fine of up to 1,000 Swiss francs.
Exceptions are made for places of worship, health reasons, local customs, art, entertainment and advertising. The authorities can grant exceptions to demonstrations in order to protect the freedom of expression and assembly. The law is not applicable on aircraft or diplomatic properties. The law prohibits covering the eyes, mouth and nose in such a way as to make a person appear unrecognizable. The Federal Council initially proposed enshrining the ban within the Criminal Code, but after criticism it was redrafted as a separate federal law. Marianne Binder-Keller, a member of the National Council, said that this approach focuses more on public safety than punishment.
The new legislation has raised significant controversy. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticized the ban as “deeply regrettable,” stating it was approved after a “political publicity campaign with strong xenophobic undertones.”
The final decision on the law’s enforcement lies with the cantons, and the Federal Council will set the date for the law’s implementation. The Federal Council will set the date for implementation.