On Friday, Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chadad’s banned “access to administrations and public institutions to anyone with their face covered."
Chadad’s office issued a circular in Tunis on Friday, stating the bans were made “for security reasons.”
Under the ban, women will not be able to wear the niqab or burqa in public institutions or government offices.
The niqab is worn by some Muslim women as an interpretation of religious dress codes. It covers the face, revealing only the eyes. The burqa, another interpretation of religious modest dress, covers the entire face including the eyes.
The ban comes at a time of heightened security in the country.
Two suicide bombings shook Tunis on June 27. The attacks, claimed by the Islamic State and targeting Tunisian security forces, killed one policeman and injured several civilians.
On July 3, the presumed mastermind of the attacks, Aymen Smiri, blew himself up in Tunis following a police chase.
Witnesses said the suspect was wearing a niqab at the time, reported Al Jazeera. Although the newspaper adds that the Tunisian Ministry of Interior denied this claim.
The ban on facial coverings raises questions of freedom of expression and religion. Under international law, any restrictions to these freedoms must be “demonstrably necessary and proportionate for that purpose.”
For Jamel Msallem, the president of the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights, Tunisia’s ban on facial coverings in public institutions is justified.
“We are for the freedom to dress, but today with the current situation and the terrorist threats in Tunisia and across the region we find justifications for this decision,” Mr Msallem told the Agence Francaise de Presse (AFP).
He asked the government to ensure the ban was only temporary and would be repealed when a “normal security situation returns in Tunisia.”
A question of human rights
However, Saloua Kennou, the president of the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD), hopes that the ban will be definitive.
“We are completely against the niqab,” she told Morocco World News.
“It represents a real public danger. There have been a number of incidents carried out by people wearing the niqab.”
“As feminist women, we are also against this type of clothing. The niqab hides women, makes them silhouettes, objects that need to be hidden. This has nothing to do with human rights. We hope the ban will be permanent, so that we can have a debate on this issue and change people’s mentalities on the question,” she added.
Many states across the world have introduced bans on facial coverings, claiming security concerns.
Following the attacks in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, that killed at least 250 church-goers and injured hundreds more, Sri Lanka’s president banned wearing any garment in public that “hinders identification”.
For Amnesty International, the ban was problematic.
“At a time when many Muslims in Sri Lanka fear a backlash, imposing a ban that effectively targets women wearing a face veil for religious reasons risks stigmatizing them.” said Amnesty International’s Deputy South Asia Director Dinushika Dissanayake.
“They will be forced out of public spaces to stay at home and will be unable to work, study or access basic services. The ban violates their rights to non-discrimination, freedom of expression and religion,” she explained.
“Women have a right to choose how they dress, whatever their beliefs. Forcing women to take off the face-veil is coercive and humiliating,” added Amnesty International representative.
Many other countries including Denmark, Belgium, Algeria, Chad, and Gabon have banned or restricted facial coverings in public places and public institutions.