ST. GALLEN – Paying thousands of euros as a fine for Muslim women donning niqab, French-Algerian businessman Rachid Nekkaz has promised to assist the concerned Muslim women in St Gallen, a Swiss canton which voted for the ban of the outfit last week.
Nekkaz arrived in St Gallen’s capital city on Wednesday, accompanied by a woman wearing niqab, Swiss Info reported.
He said in a statement given outside the Hotel de Ville that all women should have the right, on the basis of religious freedom, to veil their faces and that authorities should respect this freedom.
The canton of St Gallen in northeastern Switzerland has become the second in the European country to vote in favor of banning the burqa in public in a referendum held on Sunday, September 23.
A suggestion to ban burqa across the country was opposed by the government. Yet, it said that individual cantons maintain authority on the matter.
Nekkaz, a self-made success story, was born in the suburbs of Paris to Algerian immigrants who made a small fortune with Internet start-ups before expanding into real estate.
In the mid-2000s, he began to seek similar success in politics, making a failed attempt to run as the “candidate of the suburbs” in the 2007 presidential election and following up with another push in the municipal elections the next year.
After 2009 ban on full-face veil, Nekkaz quickly became one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed law.
In 2010, he announced that he was setting up a fund of 1 million euros that he would use to pay any fines given to women wearing the veil, which gave him the title “Zorro of the niqab.”
As Nekkaz puts it, the fund’s aim was “to neutralize this profoundly liberty-threatening law’s application on the streets,” and he soon moved its scope beyond France’s borders.
Since 2010, Nekkaz said he has paid 1,553 fines in six European countries, including Switzerland, for a total of EUR 318,000 (CHF362,563), according to Swiss News Agency SDA-ATS.