Archive for the EU Category
Ban on burqas first introduced by Belgium’s government last year
Move follows riot sparked by arrest of a woman for wearing the full face covering
Belgian right-wingers have offered to pay a bounty to anyone who reports a veiled woman to police.
The Vlaams Belang political party made the 250 euros (£200) offer today in the wake of face veil riots in Brussels.
Filip Dewinter, a senior figure within the right-wing party, told Reuters the riots had made police apprehensive about enforcing the burqa ban.
He claimed that the payment should put pressure on authorities to further enforce it.
Mr Dewinter said: ‘It’s a textile prison for the women who have to live under it.’
The anti-immigration nationalist party’s stunt follows protesters hurling bins and metal barriers at a Brussels police station last week.
The riot broke out after a Muslim woman was arrested for refusing to remove her face veil, or niqab.
A Brussels police spokesman said he was unaware of the money being offered.
But added that any officer who sees a woman wearing a niqab would issue a penalty.
He said: ‘When someone is breaking the law we always have to intervene, demonstrations or no, the niqab is prohibited.’
Women in Belgium risk a maximum fine of 150 euros (£120) if they wear a full face veil in public.
Mr Dewinter said he was not aware how many people had already responded to the offer of a bounty.
A spokeswoman for Belgium’s federal police said the legality of the bounty was a question for the judiciary, but if someone felt insulted by it they could file a complaint with the police.
Police in Belgium are investigating last week’s riots and arrested 13 members of the Islamist group Sharia4Belgium on Sunday, the police spokesman said.
Sharia4Belgium was not immediately available for comment.
Belgium and France both banned the wearing of full veils in public last year.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who was French president when the ban was brought in, had commented that the outfits oppress women were ‘not welcome’ in France.
Canada announced in December that new citizens had to remove any face coverings, including the niqab and burqa, when they take the oath of citizenship.
Christians do not have a right to wear a cross or crucifix openly at work, the Government is to argue in a landmark court case.
In a highly significant move, ministers will fight a case at the European Court of Human Rights in which two British women will seek to establish their right to display the cross.
It is the first time that the Government has been forced to state whether it backs the right of Christians to wear the symbol at work.
A document seen by The Sunday Telegraph discloses that ministers will argue that because it is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so.
The Government’s position received an angry response last night from prominent figures including Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.
He accused ministers and the courts of “dictating” to Christians and said it was another example of Christianity becoming sidelined in official life.
The Government’s refusal to say that Christians have a right to display the symbol of their faith at work emerged after its plans to legalise same-sex marriages were attacked by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain.
A poll commissioned by The Sunday Telegraph shows that the country is split on the issue.
Overall, 45 per cent of voters support moves to allow gay marriage, with 36 per cent against, while 19 per cent say they do not know.
However, the Prime Minister is out of step with his own party.
Exactly half of Conservative voters oppose same-sex marriage in principle and only 35 per cent back it.
There is no public appetite to change the law urgently, with more than three quarters of people polled saying it was wrong to fast-track the plan before 2015 and only 14 per cent saying it was right.
The Strasbourg case hinges on whether human rights laws protect the right to wear a cross or crucifix at work under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
The Christian women bringing the case, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, claim that they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing the symbols.
They want the European Court to rule that this breached their human right to manifest their religion.
The Government’s official response states that wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore does not fall under the remit of Article 9.
Lawyers for the two women claim that the Government is setting the bar too high and that “manifesting” religion includes doing things that are not a “requirement of the faith”, and that they are therefore protected by human rights.
They say that Christians are given less protection than members of other religions who have been granted special status for garments or symbols such as the Sikh turban and kara bracelet, or the Muslim hijab.
Last year it emerged that Mrs Eweida, a British Airways worker, and Mrs Chaplin, a nurse, had taken their fight to the European Court in Strasbourg after both faced disciplinary action for wearing a cross at work.
Mrs Eweida’s case dates from 2006 when she was suspended for refusing to take off the cross which her employers claimed breached BA’s uniform code.
The 61 year-old, from Twickenham, is a Coptic Christian who argued that BA allowed members of other faiths to wear religious garments and symbols.
BA later changed its uniform policy but Mrs Eweida lost her challenge against an earlier employment tribunal decision at the Court of Appeal and in May 2010 was refused permission to go to the Supreme Court.
Mrs Chaplin, 56, from Exeter, was barred from working on wards by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust after she refused to hide the cross she wore on a necklace chain, ending 31 years of nursing.
The Government claims the two women’s application to the Strasbourg court is “manifestly ill-founded”.
Its response states: “The Government submit that… the applicants’ wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not a manifestation of their religion or belief within the meaning of Article 9, and…the restriction on the applicants’ wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not an ‘interference’ with their rights protected by Article 9.”
The response, prepared by the Foreign Office, adds: “In neither case is there any suggestion that the wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was a generally recognised form of practising the Christian faith, still less one that is regarded (including by the applicants themselves) as a requirement of the faith.”
The Government has also set out its intention to oppose cases brought by two other Christians, including a former registrar who objected to conducting civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples.
Lillian Ladele, who worked as a registrar for Islington council in north London for 17 years, said she was forced to resign in 2007 after being disciplined, and claimed she had been harassed over her beliefs.
Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor, was sacked by Relate for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.
Christian groups described the Government’s stance as “extraordinary”.
Lord Carey said: “The reasoning is based on a wholly inappropriate judgment of matters of theology and worship about which they can claim no expertise.
“The irony is that when governments and courts dictate to Christians that the cross is a matter of insignificance, it becomes an even more important symbol and expression of our faith.”
The Strasbourg cases brought by Mrs Chaplin and Mr McFarlane are supported by the Christian Legal Centre which has instructed Paul Diamond, a leading human rights barrister.
Judges in Strasbourg will next decide whether all four cases will progress to full hearings.
If they proceed, the cases will test how religious rights are balanced against equality laws designed to prohibit discrimination.
Andrea Williams, the director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “It is extraordinary that a Conservative government should argue that the wearing of a is not a generally recognised practice of the Christian faith.
“In recent months the courts have refused to recognise the wearing of a cross, belief in marriage between a man and a woman and Sundays as a day of worship as ‘core’ expressions of the Christian faith.
“What next? Will our courts overrule the Ten Commandments?”
Growing anger among Christians will be highlighted today by Delia Smith, the television chef and practising Roman Catholic, who will issue a Lent appeal on behalf the Church’s charity, Cafod, accusing “militant neo-atheists and devout secularists” of “busting a gut to drive us off the radar and try to convince us that we hardly exist”.
ICM Research interviewed an online sample of 2,001 adults between March 7 and March 9. Interviews were conducted across the country and results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.
Activists plan to uproot experimental plants at Rothamsted agricultural research centre in Hertfordshire, where scientists are developing a strain of wheat modified to deter aphids, a common insect pest.
Protesters claim that the trial is unsafe and risks contaminating other fields, and pledged to lead activists to the site “where those who wish can participate in removing the GM crop”.
Their planned action – the biggest public protest against GM technology for a decade – has been condemned by scientists, farmers and MPs, who warned that such destruction would set back research into more effective farming methods.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has ordered an exclusion zone around the centre near Harpenden, and police have warned that anyone who enters will face arrest.
One protester has already been arrested — Hector Christie, a veteran campaigner and the eldest son of Sir George and Lady Christie, the owners of Glyndebourne. He is alleged to have broken into Rothamsted a week ago and lopped heads off GM wheat plants.
Today’s “day of action” was called by a new campaign group, Take the Flour Back. Now it can be disclosed that organisations backing the protest have been funded by money raised for good causes from sales of lottery tickets.
Among them is Organiclea, which promotes organic food production in east London. It has called on its supporters to participate today, stating: “We support this action because we believe that the trial is unsafe. It risks contaminating other crops, and the effects on human health and on insects vital to pollination have not been properly tested.
“We will take a 20-minute stroll on public footpaths to the trial site where those who wish to can participate in removing the GM crop.”
In 2009, Organiclea received £300,000 of National Lottery funding to develop a community-based organic market garden. The group also got £272,000 of lottery funding in 2008 to open a café and shop, and £10,000 last year to encourage healthy eating.
Marlene Barrett, of Organiclea, said: “There is no conflict between us taking part in direct-action protests and receiving lottery funding. As an organisation, we have a right to choose what stance we take. In fact, the potential for contamination from GM crops threatens the work we are funded to do.”
Organiclea is a member of the Community Food Growers’ Network (CFGN), which has promoted direct-action tactics among a new generation of anti-GM campaigners.
The idea of “decontaminating” fields – uprooting crops — emerged during meetings last year held by activists concerned about the GM wheat trial. Many were connected to CFGN, whose online manifesto says: “We call for an immediate end to the open-air trials of GM wheat at the Rothamsted research station.”
Another group that forms part of CFGN is the E2 Collective of organic food growers, which has had funding from Tower Hamlets council in east London.
The public face of Take the Flour Back last week was Jyoti Fernandes, who clashed with scientists on BBC2’s Newsnight.
She farms a smallholding in Dorset and helped organise an organic food week in the county funded by the National Lottery.
One of the most high-profile groups to oppose the wheat trials is the Real Bread Campaign (RBC), which was given £239,975 by the Big Lottery Fund in 2009 to pay for a full-time worker and to promote traditional bread. On its website, the RBC publicises the date of the Take the Flour Back event, and says “Together we can stop this trial.”
Yesterday, it distanced itself from plans to uproot crops. A spokesman said: “We object to the GM wheat trials and we have some common interests with Take the Flour Back. But we do not support any illegal action and we are not interested in supporting or taking part in decontamination.”
The Big Lottery Fund said lottery grants could not be used for political campaigns and that it checked the activities of recipients.
A petition opposing the destruction has attracted more than 5,000 signatures.
Lord Willis, the chairman of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said: “As we seek ways to feed a global population, surely seeking ways to improve our crops and their yield must be a central aim of plant scientists. Destroying scientific research is the 21st-century equivalent of burning witches.”
The research centre offered to hold a public debate with Take the Flour Back, but the protest group said the arrangement was not satisfactory.
Labour backbencher Barry Sheerman claimed he represents ‘the good folk of Huddersfield not Gdansk!’
A Labour MP has been accused of xenophobia after he went on twitter to blame foreign workers for serving him a sub-standard bacon sandwich.
Mr Sheerman then defended his post by insisting he represented the people of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire and ‘not Gdansk’.
And when fellow tweeter Nick Lindford responded: ‘On reflection was that tweet not xenophobic?’, Mr Sheerman replied: ‘We are all allowed a small English rant on St George’s day aren’t we?’.
However Mr Linford retorted: ‘Not in my books no, especially not if you are an MP.’
The MP then retorted: ‘I am not a xenophobe. I am an MP and I represent the good folk of Huddersfield not Gdansk!
Mr Sheerman has since defended his comments arguing that British people should be first in line for jobs.
He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘I was in a bit of a hurry to get the right train.
‘The girl who served me couldn’t speak very good English. She got my order wrong and my change wrong – that’s what made me cross.
‘I know she was from Eastern Europe but I don’t know if it was Lithuania or Poland.’
He insisted he was not prejudiced adding: ‘There are a lot of unemployed people in Huddersfield and I think they should have first crack at jobs rather than someone who arrived from Eastern Europe yesterday.
‘The average young person in my constituency has got competition from every young person in Europe.
‘I can see why everyone thinks our country is paved with gold – they all want to come here.
‘I’m getting increasingly worried about the free movement of people across Europe.
‘It’s a very competitive world out there and my constituents resent that.’
Mr Sheerman said politicians should be free to express their views on immigration and blamed political correctness for hindering a politican’s ability to represent his constituents.