Pressure on Victorian Government over Muslim women lifting their veils

THE Baillieu Government will consider laws being adopted in other states that will give police the power to force Muslim women wearing a full veil to reveal their faces.

Islamic leaders and the Law Institute of Victoria have both backed the need for police to be given clear powers to identify people. The Police Association also has supported the need for more clarity for its members.

The NSW Government this week said it would draw up legislation allowing police to ask any person stopped during routine vehicle checks to remove burqas, niqabs or other head and face coverings at the roadside to verify their identities.

The move follows a Sydney judge's decision last week to quash a six-month jail sentence given to a burqa-wearing mother of seven, Carnita Matthews.

Mrs Matthews had been found guilty of falsely accusing Sen-Constable Paul Fogarty of forcibly trying to remove her burqa when she was pulled over while driving in June last year.

Anyone refusing to obey the law may face up to a year's jail under NSW legislation. Western Australia yesterday indicated it would adopt similar laws.

Law Institute of Victoria member and former equal opportunity commissioner Moira Rayner said she supported giving police new powers, saying it was not unreasonable for people to be forced to clearly identify themselves.

Police Minister Peter Ryan told the Herald Sun NSW's legislation would be considered by the State Government. "We will have regard to what that legislation is and then consider it in Victoria," he said.

The Islamic community has backed the changes in principle. But Islamic Council of Victoria director Nazeem Hussain warned new laws must be carefully monitored so that police don't abuse their power.

It also wants female police to witness the unveiling. Islamic law allows a Muslim woman to remove her face veil to verify her identity.

Police Association state secretary Greg Davies said there needed to be clear cut legislation about what powers officers have.

Helen Szoke, Commissioner of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, said there would need to be a good reason to introduce similar laws in Victoria, but wouldn't rule it out. "There would have to be a compelling reason for you to want to do it," she said.


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