Face veil ban could force Latvian Muslim to 'hide in the countryside'

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Fatima, a Latvia-born Muslim, would be among the handful of people affected by proposed Justice Ministry regulations banning face covering in public places. If the idea becomes law, she is likely to hide in the countryside, reported Latvian Television Saturday.

Fatima, previously Līga, converted to Islam eight years ago. She's a sixth-year medicine student living in Rīga.

She has been wearing the niqab for more than three years now and says she didn't face any negativity from the society before talk about face veil bans began.

"A few days ago a woman got on the bus and told me - don't stand near me, go stand somewhere else. She was holding a board of sorts, she was swinging it around and was about to hit me. Nothing like this had happened previously," she said.

According to Latvian Television, at least three more Muslim women are wearing face masks in Latvia, and if the law is adopted they wouldn't be allowed to wear face covering clothes anymore.

"I wouldn't want to leave Latvia, I hope I'll be able to avoid that. Possibly I could move to the countryside, as it wouldn't be nice living in Rīga and staying inside all the time," Fatima said, adamant that she'll not be removing the veil her religion requires her to wear.

The Justice Ministry initiative is related to increasing asylum seeker numbers, however it would in effect ban people from wearing other clothing, like ski masks, as well. 

As of now it looks like exceptions will take up more print than the actual ban, which would have to exclude doctors, welders and representatives of other professions. 

"It would likewise not apply to sports events, arts events, and culturally-historical events when people wear costumes and masks. Taking the Latvian weather into account, likewise the weather [could also provide an exception] as we all cover our faces in low temperatures, protecting ourselves from the cold," Jekaterina Macuka, an official at the Policy Development and Religious Affairs Department of the Justice Ministry, told Latvian Television.

The ministry is currently trying to establish more exceptions and is prepared to go to the European Court of Human Rights over the law, as France and Belgium did upon introducing similar restrictions on face covering.

Previously LETA reported a government decision that new legislation concerning face covering would be drawn up by several ministries until March 2016.

Estonia has been pondering a similar ban since last summer.

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