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Businessman vows to pay burqa ban fines

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Businessman vows to pay burqa ban fines
Rachid Nekkaz: on crusade for state religious 'neutrality'. Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP
11:00 CET+01:00
A ban on wearing niqabs or burqas in public has yet to be implemented in the canton of Ticino but an Algerian businessman is already vowing to “neutralize” it by paying any fines for breaking the law, recently passed by MPs in the southern Swiss canton.

Last month, cantonal lawmakers passed legislation prohibiting the wearing of such garments, which cover the face and are traditionally worn by women in many Muslim countries, with fines from 100 francs to 10,000 francs.

Rachid Nekkaz, a French-born Algerian internet entrepreneur and political activist, told a press conference in Locarno that he planned to pay all fines for people found in contravention of the law, which is not yet in force.

“I am going to pay all the penalties in order to neutralize the law,” Nekkaz said, according to a report from the ATS news agency.

By doing so the business owner hopes to be able to protect the right to "freely practice religion."

Nekkaz made his commitment at a press conference in Locarno's main square, the Piazza Grande, organized by the Swiss Islamic Council.

He was accompanied by Nora Illi, a representative of the council responsible for women's issues, who was wearing a niqab, which completely covers the face except for the eyes, ATS reported.

Illi warned against a national initiative to ban the wearing of veils in public across Switzerland, launched by right-wing politicians in September, the news agency said.

She said she wanted to freely follow her religion and to be able to continue taking her holidays in Ticino and to “eat an ice cream on the Piazza Grande”.

Nekkaz said since the niqab was banned in France in 2010 he had paid more than 1,000 fines in that country for women flouting the law, according to ATS.

He paid the fines from a fund of several million euros he established for the protection of freedom and state religious neutrality.

In the case of fines that reach 10,000 francs, Nekkaz said he would appeal such penalties to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for “excessive penalties”.

Despite this, the businessman, who studied the history of philosophy at the Sorbonne, said he was personally against women wearing veils.

ATS said Nekkaz added: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

The quote is often attributed to Voltaire but was actually made by the English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who wrote a biography about the French writer.

According to media reports, Nekkaz, born to Algerian parents and married to a Canadian, renounced his French citizenship in 2013 in order to become a candidate in Algeria's presidential election last year.  

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