Denmark's parliament banned the wearing of face coverings in public spaces Thursday in a move that critics say will criminalize Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab or burqa.
The measure will come into force on August 1, Reuters news agency reported. Fines will range from 1,000 Danish crowns ($160) for a first offense to 10,000 crowns for a fourth violation, the news agency said.
The ban is the latest in a series to be approved by European lawmakers. A ban on wearing the full-face veil in public went into force in France in 2011. Restrictions on full-face veils are also in place in Belgium, Austria and parts of Switzerland, while other European countries have debated the issue.
Lawmakers in Quebec, Canada, passed a bill last October that would require public workers and citizens seeking government services to have their faces uncovered.
Rights groups say such bills discriminate against Muslim women who wear face-concealing veils. A niqab covers the woman's face except for the area around the eyes, while a burqa covers the entire face and has a mesh over the eyes.
"All women should be free to dress as they please and to wear clothing that expresses their identity or beliefs," said Amnesty International's Europe Director Gauri van Gulik following the vote in Denmark.
"Whilst some specific restrictions on the wearing of full-face veils for the purposes of public safety may be legitimate, this blanket ban is neither necessary nor proportionate and violates the rights to freedom of expression and religion.
"If the intention of this law was to protect women's rights it fails abjectly. Instead, the law criminalizes women for their choice of clothing and in so doing flies in the face of those freedoms Denmark purports to uphold."