Muslim women who refuse to remove their veils for police will face jail under new laws in Australia’s largest state.
The New South Wales government has rushed through legislation allowing police to force the removal of head coverings to identify suspected criminals.
The laws, among the toughest in the world involving Islamic female dress, follow the recent furore over a Sydney woman who claimed police tried to rip off her veil after her car was pulled over.
The woman, Carnita Matthews, was charged with falsely accusing police of assault. She was cleared by a judge who ruled she could not be positively identified because of her head covering.
Under new laws, approved by the state cabinet and due to be enforced within months, a person who refuses to remove a head covering for police will face up to a year in jail or a $A5,500 (£3,600) fine.
“I don’t care whether a person is wearing a motorcycle helmet, a niqab, a face veil or anything else, the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear,” said Barry O’Farrell, the New South Wales premier.
Most Muslim groups accepted the changes but some said a female officer should oversee any removals.
“If you’re asked to do something by a police officer and it’s legitimate, then you do it,” said Khaled Sukkarieh, the chairman of the Islamic Council of New South Wales.
The Muslim Women’s Association said if a female officer oversaw the removals then “nobody could really complain”.
However, the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which called for Australian Muslims this week to reject democracy, said the new laws were designed to intimidate Muslims.
The laws were also rejected by civil liberties groups.
Other Australian states say they may adopt similar laws, with the Western Australian government suggesting that it would consider the NSW legislation.
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