- Debates in 2015-2016 : Ban on burqas ?
In 2015, the Estonian public discussion was heated by two topics : the discussions on the European migration crisis, and a debate on whether burqas and niqabs should be banned in public space in Estonia. The discussion was initiated on 7 August 2015 by the Minister of Social Protection from the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit) who noted that Estonia should regulate certain behaviour alien to Estonian customs. Although the idea had wider implications concerning public safety and security aspects, the discussion became defined in the public as "the burqa-ban." The reactions to this idea were diverse. While the Gender Equality Commissioner argued that prohibiting some culturally or religiously motivated garments would breach constitutional rights, the former Estonian judge at the European Court of Human Rights Rait Maruste referred to the practice of the ECtHR allowing limitations to certain religious dress codes. The Estonian Women’s Associations Roundtable supported the proposal to prohibit wearing niqabs and other dress codes that are "discriminating against women."
The reactions from the Estonian Muslim communities were diverse as well. Ildar Muhhamedšin, Imam of the Estonian Islamic Congregation, considered the proposed idea as a violation of religious freedom, and expressed his willingness to turn to the EU institutions for help if the ban was implemented. However, the former chairman of the Estonian Islamic Congregation, Timur Seifullen, from the Tatar ethnic community, considered the idea to prohibit facial covering as reasonable. He stressed that niqabs and burqas are regional particularities, and not something required by Islam as a religion.
As a result of the proposal by the Minister of Social Protection, the Ministry of Justice began to draft legislation that would regulate the wearing of face-covering garments in the public square. In September 2016, there is still no regulation implemented concerning facial covering in public.
Sources : Mihelson, Helen, "Naisteühenduste ümarlaud toetab burkade keelustamist avalikus ruumis" (Roundtable of Women Associations gives support to the prohibition of burqas in public), Postimees, 27 November 2015 ; "Eesti tatarlane : Koraan ei nõua naistelt näo katmist" (Estonian Tatar : Qur’an does not require face covering of women), Estonian Public Broadcasting News, 12 August 2015 ; "Võrdõigusvolinik : püüd keelustada näokatteid on põhiseadusega vastuolus" (Equality Commissioner : attempt to ban face covering is violating the Constitution), Estonian Public Broadcasting News, 7 August 2015 ; "Arvamused nägu katvate riiete keelamise osas lähevad Eestis lahku" (Opinions on prohibiting full face covering garments differ in Estonia), Estonian Public Broadcasting News, 8 August 2015.