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Australia police get power to demand removal of burqas

06 july 2011, 11:59
0
A woman wearing a burqa talks on a mobile phone  in Sydney. ©AFP
A woman wearing a burqa talks on a mobile phone in Sydney. ©AFP
Police in the Australian state of New South Wales have been handed broad-based powers to demand the removal of burqas and other face veils so they can identify people suspected of committing a crime, AFP reports.

The state government approved the move late Monday after the recent case of a Muslim woman who was acquitted when a judge ruled she could not be positively identified because was wearing a burqa.

"I don't care whether a person is wearing a motorcycle helmet, a burqa, niqab, face veil or anything else, the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear," Premier Barry O'Farrell said.

Anyone who refuses to show their face could be jailed for up to a year or fined Aus$5,500 ($5,900).

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

Her sentence was quashed last month when a magistrate said he could not be 100 percent sure it was Matthews who made the complaint because officers were not able to see the face of the accuser.

New South Wales state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione demanded a clarification of the law and O'Farrell said the new powers should help prevent a recurrence of such cases.

"I have every respect for various religions and beliefs but when it comes to enforcing the law the police should be given adequate powers to make a clear identification," said O'Farrell.

Police previously had the power to ask women to remove face veils during the investigation of serious offences, but not on more routine matters.

The Islamic Council of New South Wales said it accepted the decision

"If you're asked to do something by a police officer and it's legitimate, then you do it," council chairman Khaled Sukkarieh told ABC radio.

The Muslim Women's Association said it would prefer that a female police officer was on hand when the veils were removed and if that happened then "nobody could really complain".

The Police Association of NSW welcomed the move, saying it was a loophole that had to be closed.

"It will provide clarity and certainty for both the public and for police officers," the union's acting president Pat Gooley said in a statement.

While Queensland state said it would not go down the same path, Western Australia indicated it may follow suit with the state's police minister due to meet the police commissioner later Tuesday.

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