Remove veil, witness told
Perth - An Australian court
ruled on Thursday that a Muslim witness must remove her face-covering veil to
give evidence at a fraud trial, stoking national debate on the issue.
The Perth District Court
ruled that the woman, 36, must take off the niqab veil during her testimony,
but Judge Shauna Deane stressed that the order should not be considered a
Known only as Tasneem, the
South African woman has worn an all-covering Islamic dress since she was 17 and
told the court she only removed it in the company of her husband.
But the defence said jurors
would not be able to properly assess the credibility of her evidence without
being able to see her facial expressions.
"The trial process
must be fair to all concerned," the Judge said.
"In the end, and I
stress in the circumstances of this particular case, I do not consider it to be
appropriate to permit the witness to give evidence at trial whilst wearing a
niqab," she added.
The judge was yet to decide
whether the woman can give evidence by video link to protect her modesty.
The case revived debate
over the issue, with both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her conservative
rival for Saturday's election, Tony Abbott, expressing discomfort at
all-enveloping Muslim dress.
"I don't particularly
like the burqa, and I would prefer that it was not worn, but I don't think we
have the sort of problem in this country that would require a ban," Abbott
Gillard agreed that the
"sight of the burqa on our streets is confronting".
"But I also believe
that in a free country, a wonderful democracy like this one, people should be
able to be absolutely free to choose what they want to wear," she added.
In July, France banned
face-covering veils in public places. Lawmakers in the Australian state of New
South Wales rejected a similar bid by a Christian party in May.
Muslims make up about 1.7%
of Australia's predominantly Christian population of 22 million, and religious
tensions have run high in recent years including race riots at a Sydney beach
in December 2005.