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Australian state empowers cops to demand removal of burqa

July 05, 2011 13:14 IST
Even as its neighbour New Zealand is counselling for cultural tolerance, police in the Australian state of New South Wales have been handed over-riding powers to demand removal of burqas or any other form of face veil if they suspect people of committing crimes.

The state cabinet approved a new legislation to bolster police powers during routine car stops after a recent case of a Muslim woman who was acquitted when a judge ruled that she could not be positively identified because she was wearing a burqa.

The new law comes into force after the state premier Barry O' Farrel reacted strongly to the acquittal saying, "I don't care whether a person is wearing a helmet, a burqa, a naqab, face veil or anything else, the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear."

Though the New South Wales government is refusing to give details on the new laws, ABC reported that it provides that anyone who refuses show their face to police could be jailed up to a year or fined Australian dollars 5,500.

The new law follows a recent high-profile case of Carnita Matthew who was sentenced to six months jail in November 2010 for falsely accusing the police of forcibly trying to remove her burqa when she was stopped for a traffic offence.

Her sentence was quashed last month by a judge who observed that she had not been positively identified because the officers could not see her face.

The state police previously had powers to ask women to remove their face veils while investigating serious crimes, but not on more routine matters.

While some Islamic groups said they accepted the decision, othersĀ  criticised the new law.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global political movement that wants Muslim nations united under a caliphate, said Premier Farrell's proposal had nothing to do with police matters.

"For us, it's a case of political intimidation," Sydney spokesman Uthman Badar was quoted by an AAP report.

"It's not a police issue, it's the fact that a non-issue has been turned into an issue. It happened before with the anti-terror laws and this is doing the same thing. There's been only one case where there's an issue and we get a law change," Badar said, adding, "We don't change the law because of one incident."

Badar blamed a call last year by South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi to ban the burqa for encouraging other politicians to speak out against the veil.

Natasha Chaku in Melbourne
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