Muslim women would have to remove veils and show their faces to police on request or risk a prison sentence under proposed new laws in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales. Under the law, a woman who defies police by refusing to remove her face veil could be sentenced to a year in prison and fined $5,900. The bill—to be voted on by the state parliament in August—has been condemned by civil libertarians and many Muslims as an overreaction to a traffic offense case involving a Muslim woman driver in a "niqab," or a veil that reveals only the eyes.
An official complaint was made in Carnita Matthews' name after the 47-year-old Muslim mother received a traffic violation in Sydney last year. The complaint said a policeman was racist toward her and attempted to tear off her veil off during a traffic encounter. But the actual traffic encounter was recorded on a camera in the officer’s car, and showed a woman in a full veil aggressively berating the restrained officer. Matthews was initially sentenced to jail time for making a deliberately false statement to police. But that conviction and sentence were quashed on appeal because a judge was not convinced that it was Matthews who signed the false statutory declaration. The woman who signed the document had worn a burka and a justice of the peace who witnessed the signing had not looked beneath the veil to confirm her identity. (Read more Australia stories.)