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How Austria’s burqa ban got a ‘shark’ in trouble

Austria’s government recently passed a law that says that people’s faces must be visible from hairline to chin.

world Updated: Oct 10, 2017 16:30 IST
Agencies, Vienna
Austria,Islamic veil,burqa ban
Police officers ask a woman to unveil her face in Zell am See, Austria on October 1, 2017.(AFP)

Austria’s new ban on the full Islamic veil and any face-concealing item is causing confusion, with a man in a shark costume the latest to be ensnared, authorities admitted on Tuesday.

Austria is the latest European country to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil, known as the burqa or the niqab, in public places. The law came into force on October 1. However, in order to avoid discrimination suits, the government worded the law to state that people’s faces must be visible from hairline to chin in public areas.

Those breaking the law can be fined up to €150, and police are allowed to use force people to show their face.

Unfortunately for the mascot for a computer store, his shark costume also fell afoul of the new law. His transgression was reportedly pointed out to the police by members of the public.

The store, McShark, later posted a picture of the man on Facebook. They said police forced the man to take off his costume and fined him, and wrote that “life isn’t fair”.

“This is a new law so naturally there are certain unclear situations and grey areas that need to be ironed out,” Manfred Reinthaler from Vienna police told public radio. “At the same time there is no legal precedence.”

Government guidelines set out a number of exceptions including masks and disguises at cultural events, work wear such as medical masks, and scarves in cold weather.

The ban on the full-face veil, which remains a rare sight in Austria, was seen as the latest effort by the two governing centrist parties to halt a rise in support for the anti-immigration Freedom Party.

Polls suggest that the far-right party will garner around 25% support in elections on Sunday and may become junior coalition partners to Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives.

First Published: Oct 10, 2017 16:30 IST