Hundreds of people gathered in the Danish capital Wednesday to protest a new ban on face veils in public spaces.
Denmark’s parliament passed the law in May, with an effective date of August 1. Now, anyone found publicly wearing a face veil can be fined anywhere from 1,000 Danish krone ($156) to 10,000 krone ($1,565) for repeat offenses.
Activists have expressed concern that the bill stirs up anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment and infringes on women’s right to dress the way they please.
While the law doesn’t explicitly target Islam, vocal supporters of the bill were clear that they did not believe women should wear the niqab, a face veil that leaves the area around the eyes open, or the burqa, a veil that covers the entire face and allows one to see through a mesh screen.
“The burqua and niqab are the purest form of extremism,” said Martin Henriksen, a Member of Parliament from the Danish People’s party, which introduced the law. “This is a battle against fundamentalism. As a society, we are showing what we are willing to accept.”
Henriksen added that the party hoped to see a full ban on Islamic headscarves in schools in the future.
Sabina, a 21-year-old Danish student who wears the niqab and did not want her last name used for safety reasons, told TIME that she originally began wearing the burqa because she wanted to feel closer to God. “Now it has also become a political choice for me,” said Sabina, who also founded an organization that raises awareness of the Muslim women affected by the ban. “It is also a sign of protest.”
A few iPhone shots from today’s protest against Denmark’s face-covering ban, which will significantly impact women who wear the niqab and burqa in the country. pic.twitter.com/I5z2G6TAXq
— Karis Hustad (@karishustad) August 1, 2018
Hana Ali, another woman who wears the niqab and was at the protest Wednesday, said she will try to live her life as normally as she can after the ban.
“Of course, it is going be difficult, there are places that I cannot go to any more but I’ll just have to make a sacrifice for what I believe is true,” she told The Local. “I will hope that we can change the climate or the narration of what a Muslim woman is and maybe they will change the law or subtract it someday.”
Many of the people protesting were wearing face veils in solidarity. According to CNN, protesters chanted “No racists in our streets” as they marched from Norrebro, a culturally diverse neighborhood, to the Bellahoej police station less than a mile away. There, they linked arms and created a human chain around the station.
Human rights activists have condemned the law for criminalizing women’s dress and targeting Muslims.
“All women should be free to dress as they please and to wear clothing that expresses their identity or beliefs,” said Amnesty International’s Europe director, Gauri van Gulik, after the law was passed in May. “This ban will have a particularly negative impact on Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab or burqa.”
“While some specific restrictions on the wearing of full-face veils for the purposes of public safety may be legitimate, this blanket ban is neither necessary nor proportionate and violates the rights to freedom of expression and religion.”
Very few Muslim women in Denmark actually wear veils fully covering their face. One study by researchers at the University of Copenhagen found that only about 150 Muslim women wear the niqab or burqa daily. About half of that number are Muslim converts.
Several European countries have passed bans on face veils to varying degrees in recent years, including France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, and Austria. The Netherlands and Denmark joined the list earlier this year. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights upheld Begium’s ban, making it unlikely that similar bans in the rest of the European Union will be successfully challenged in court. Also last year, the Canadian province of Quebec banned people wearing face veils from using public services or working for the government. That law is currently suspended due to legal challenges.