Italy's Party Neglects Muslims' Religious Freedom

  Italy's anti-immigration Northern League party is to enforce the law which will prosecute women who cover their faces with burqas and veils, prompting a new debate on Muslims' religious freedom in the Catholic country.

   The Northern League, allies of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, want to amend a 1975 law, introduced amid worries over homegrown guerrilla groups, which punishes with hefty fines and up to two years in jail people covering their faces with anything preventing their identification by police.

  Roberto Cota, head of the Northern League deputies who signed the proposal, said it was motivated by security concerns.

  It would extend an existing partial ban on face-covering clothing to include "garments worn for reasons of religious affiliation," and removes the expression "justified cause" which has prompted some courts to allow them on religious grounds.

  The League's proposal is creating more controversy surrounding the ruling coalition which is under pressure after a high court lifted Berlusconi's immunity from trials and a spate of sex scandals surrounding the prime minister's life.

  Mario Scialoja, a retired Italian diplomat who sits on the board of the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, warned against passing a law that would stigmatize Muslims.

  "A ban (on the burqa) would be xenophobic and discriminatory. The existing law should be enforced," Scialoja said, urging Italian authorities to treat women with respect. "We say no to a new law." Reported by Reuters.

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