CAIRO – Australian Muslim women will no longer have to pull off their face veil when submitting complains to police stations according to a plan from New South Wales Police Minister Mike Gallacher to take fingerprints instead, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Tuesday, June 21.
“The suggestion that I have made to the attorney-general, that may well be considered ... is that there be a provision on the statutory declaration or the statement for a fingerprint to be obtained from the person being interviewed,” Gallacher told reporters in Sydney.
The suggestion followed a recent row that arose after Sydney woman Carnita Matthews, 47, was sentenced in 2010 to six months' jail for falsely accusing a police officer of trying forcibly to remove her face veil.
The mother of seven had made a criminal complaint to police three days after she was pulled over in her car in Woodbine, southwest Sydney, for a random breath test on June 7, 2010.
Yesterday, Matthews won an appeal against her conviction as there was no evidence to confirm that it was Matthews who had filed the complaint because the person who made it was wearing a face veil.
To avoid such cases, Gallacher said that in future criminal cases, complainants and witnesses who failed to remove their face veils may be required to have their fingerprints taken to confirm their identity.
The NSW police minister noted that the fingerprint data could be destroyed at a later date, at the request of the complainant.
New South Wales is home to 168.788 Muslims, about 49.6 percent of the total population, making the state a habitat to the largest Muslim population, according to the 2006 government Census.
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.
The NSW police minister promised to look at police officers’ powers to see if they have the right to compel veiled women to remove their niqab.
"I want to look at the Motor Transport Act ... to ensure where there is uncertainty at the scene, police have the ability to take the person back, which they currently do, to the police station and check their identity," Gallacher said.
He reiterated that such right was guaranteed to police officers while investigating more serious or indictable offences at actual crime scenes.
Yet, under the Motor Transport act, such powers were unclear.
Gallacher said he would speak to Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione to find ways to clarify the situation.
On the other hand, NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell insisted that police powers to identify people will be protected by law.
"Muslim women who wear burkas, who apply for licenses, have photographs of themselves on their licenses, police have the right to seek to establish the identity of anyone that they're concerned about," O'Farrell said, ABC Sydney reported.
The chairman of the Islamic Council of NSW, Khaled Sukkarieh, says there is no problem with asking a Muslim woman to lift her veil, but it would be preferable if it was by a female officer.
"From a perspective of it being done sensibly and with sensitivity," he said.
While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil, or niqab, but believe that it is up to women to decide whether to cover her face.
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