Bulgarian City of Pazardzhik Bans Burqas to Boost Security

  • Women clad in Islamic-style face coverings risk $578 fine
  • Women in Pazardzhik get paid to wear burqas, prosecutor says

The Bulgarian city of Pazardzhik banned burqas and face-hiding clothing in public places to curb a spreading trend among local Muslim women on grounds it may threaten security.

The council in the central Bulgarian city voted 39 to 2 to ban facial veils in the streets, public institutions and transport, shops, restaurants and parks, Harry Haralampiev, the council’s chairman, said by phone from Pazardzhik on Wednesday. The penalty is a fine ranging from 300 lev ($173) to 1,000 lev, he said. This is the first ban of its kind in the Balkan country and it excludes the city’s Roma quarter allowing people to cover their faces during religious rituals, he said.

“Six or seven years ago no one wore this kind of clothing,” Haralampiev said. “We can’t isolate ourselves from the dangers that highly organized states are already facing.”

Bulgaria seeks to improve security amid concerns of increasing threats from the Islamic State, following terrorist assaults in Paris and Brussels in the past 15 months. Similar bans on facial veils have been imposed in the Netherlands, France and Italy. A legal amendment which would ban Islamic-style face coverings throughout Bulgaria was introduced to parliament last month.

Some women in Pazardzhik receive 120 lev a month to wear face-concealing clothing, Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said on April 15.  The prosecution charged about 30 people in the cities of Plovdiv, Pazardzhik and Asenovgrad in 2015 for spreading radical Islam and propagating war. About ten percent of the people in the European Union’s poorest country defined themselves as Muslims in a 2011 census, according to the National Statistics Institute. In the region of Pazardzhik, the percentage is about 11.5.

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