The Council of Europe, the oldest European institution which specialises in human rights, today (20 July) strongly criticised recent French and Belgian legislation targeting the burqa, a veil that covers entirely women's faces.

Penalising women who wear the burqa does not liberate them, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, said today in a written statement.

Hammarberg explained that a law in Belgium will enter into force on 23 July, introducing fines and up to seven days of imprisonment for women wearing such dress. Meanwhile in France, since April anyone who wears the niqab or burqa in public is subject to fines of 150 euros and/or "citizenship training".

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