‘I’ll pay Denmark niqab fines’: French-Algerian millionaire

Rachid Nekkaz, a French-Algerian businessman and activist, has said he will keep a promise he made earlier this year to pay fines issued in Denmark for breaches of the new law against face-masking garments.

'I’ll pay Denmark niqab fines': French-Algerian millionaire
Rachid Nekkaz in Denmark in March. Photo: Uffe Weng/Ritzau Scanpix

The law, popularly known as the ‘burqa ban’, came into effect last week, to protests in Copenhagen and Aarhus from Muslim women who wear the veil and others who oppose it.

Nekkaz told Berlingske that he would pay fines after a 29-year-old woman in Hørsholm became the first to be penalised under the law.

“Of course I will pay all the fines that are issued on the streets of Denmark after August 1st,” he told Berlingske via written message.

The businessman will travel to Copenhagen to pay the fines, he added.

“I will be in Copenhagen on September 11th to pay all the fines, and will thereafter do this every month, because even though I am against the niqab, I will always defend freedom across the world. Freedom to wear the niqab as well as freedom not to wear the niqab,” he said.

First offences under the law are punishable with fines of 1,000 kroner, while repeat offences can be fined up to 10,000 kroner.

The 46-year-old, who was born in France to Algerian parents, has paid fines amounting to hundreds of thousands of euros, by his own estimation, for women in countries including Belgium, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Germany.

“I have paid 1,538 fines,” he said in March when announcing his intention to cover the cost of the then-proposed Danish niqab penalties.

“There is no limit to how much I will pay. Freedom has no limit,” he said at the time.



EXPLAINED: What impact will the burqa ban have on Switzerland?

Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed a ban on full face coverings in public places, which includes burqas and other forms of clothing that conceal the face.

EXPLAINED: What impact will the burqa ban have on Switzerland?
Burqas and other face concealments will not be allowed in Switzerland. Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

Official results showed that 51.2 percent of voters and a majority of cantons supported the controversial proposal.

READ MORE: Swiss voters narrowly back controversial ‘burqa ban’

What are the reactions to the ban?

Proponents of the initiative expressed their satisfaction with how the vote turned out.

“We are glad, we don’t want radical Islam in our country at all”, said Marco Chiesa, head of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which spearheaded the vote. 

On its website, the party said that the ban on concealing one’s face also “ensures greater security, because this measure also explicitly targets hooligans and leftist thugs who, concealed by hoods, commit acts of violence and vandalism”.

However those who opposed this measure are critical of the vote outcome.

“The question should not have been asked at the polls. This vote was a pretext to add fuel to the fire”, said  Islamologist Stéphane Lathion.

The Swiss chapter of Amnesty International noted that the new measure “discriminates against a particular religious community, and fuels division and fears”. 

Roger Nordmann, head of the Socialist lawmakers in parliament, said that some people voted for the ban for “feminist reasons” — that is, to free Muslim women from being forced to cover their face.

However, “no problem has been solved and women’s rights have not progressed either,” he said

Was the vote driven by Islamophobia?

While the post-referendum survey conducted among the Swiss voters by Tarmedia showed that 91 percent of SVP members voted to accept the initiative, some members of centrist and leftist parties also said ‘yes’  – but for different reasons. 

More than half of supporters of centrist parties and a fifth of those belonging to the Green and Social Democratic Party also slipped a “yes” in the ballot box.

But unlike the SVP supporters, these liberal voters backed the initiative for feminist reasons as well as secular ones — to exclude religious symbols from public life. 

What happens now? 

The Federal Council, which is the executive branch of the government, will submit proposals to parliament on how to implement this initiative.

However, this will not happen overnight: authorities have two years to draw up detailed legislation.

What is the likely impact of this new measure?

It will certainly stimulate political debate, but the actual effect is likely going to be limited.

There are less than 100 women who wear full face veils in Switzerland, so the impact will not be widespread.

In Ticino, where burqa ban has been in effect since 2016, fines of up to 10,000 francs can be imposed for breaking this law. However, none have been given out so far.

The ban may, however, have a negative effect on Switzerland’s tourism sector, which has already suffered multi-billion-franc losses in the past year due to the pandemic.

Switzerland “will lose these well-off guests from the Gulf countries”, according to Barbara Gisi, director of the Swiss Tourism Federation.

In 2019, nearly 864,000 people from these states visited Switzerland.

In Ticino, burqa ban has had an impact on tourism, Gisi said. The canton has lost 30 percent of visitors from the Gulf countries after the law went into effect.

The Federation will try “through awareness-raising actions to welcome as many socially more progressive tourists as possible from these states”, Gisi added.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s ‘anti-burqa’ initiative all about?