Cops able to demand removal of burqas
Sydney - Police in the Australian state of New South Wales are to be allowed to demand the removal of burqas and other face veils so they can identify people.
The state government approved the move late on Monday after the high-profile recent case of a Muslim woman being acquitted when a judge ruled she could not be positively identified because was wearing a burqa.
"I don't care whether a person is wearing a motorcycle helmet, a burqa, niqab, face veil or anything else, the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear," Premier Barry O'Farrell said.
"I have every respect for various religions and beliefs but when it comes to enforcing the law the police should be given adequate powers to make a clear identification."
Anyone who refuses to show their face could be jailed for up to a year or fined $5 900.
The move comes in the wake of a case in November when a woman was sentenced to six months jail for falsely accusing police of forcibly trying to remove her burqa when she was stopped for a traffic offence.
But her sentence was quashed last month when a magistrate said he could not be 100% sure it was the same woman who made the complaint because officers were not able to see the face of the accuser.
New South Wales state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione demanded a clarification of the law and O'Farrell said the new powers should help prevent a recurrence of such issues.
Police previously had the power to ask women to remove face veils during the investigation of serious offences, but not on more routine matters.
The wearing of full-face niqab veils by some Muslim women has become a contentious issue in parts of Europe, where France has banned them in public.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday said Muslim women wearing veils should not face discrimination, after two Saudis were reportedly ordered off buses due to their attire.
The Islamic Council of New South Wales said it accepted O'Farrell's decision.
Female officers preferred
"If you're asked to do something by a police officer and it's legitimate, then you do it," council chairperson Khaled Sukkarieh told ABC radio.
The Muslim Women's Association said it would prefer that a female police officer was on hand when the veils were removed, but if that happened then "nobody could really complain".
The Police Association of New South Wales welcomed the move, saying it was a loophole that had to be closed.
"It will provide clarity and certainty for both the public and for police officers," the union's acting president Pat Gooley said in a statement.
While Queensland state said it would not go down the same path, Western Australia indicated it may follow suit with the state's police minister meeting the police commissioner on the issue on Tuesday.
"I'm concerned at the idea of police not having the power to request drivers to remove helmets or other face coverings for ID purposes at the roadside," WA Police Minister Rob Johnson said.