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Man in cow mask, fined under burqa ban law, has conviction quashed

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People oppose a burqa ban in Denmark. A similar ban exists in Austria, under which an animal rights activist was fined for wearing a cow mask.
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Mads Claus Rasmussen/AP

An animal rights activist, who wore a cow mask in public and fell foul of a law banning the burqa and other face coverings in Austria, has had his conviction overturned.

The man was initially arrested for distributing leaflets in June 2018 in a cattle costume in Baden, near the capital city Vienna. He was sentenced by a regional administrative court for concealing his face in public.

Austria had passed a law banning full Islamic veils and other face coverings in October 2017.

The activist argued that the sentence had violated his right to freedom of expression, saying he wanted to draw attention to “the conditions of milk production”.

The case was taken to Austria’s highest court, which has overturned his conviction, according to a statement seen by AFP on Wednesday.

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“In the name of the exercise of this right, facial features may be veiled or concealed,” the Constitutional Court stated in its ruling.

The ban on all face-coverings was not intended to target religious veils and was made as neutral as possible by Austria’s Interior Ministry.

Exceptions to the law included carnival costumes and surgical masks, although the law came into force several years before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April 2018, a leukaemia patient wearing a mask was arrested in Vienna, but he explained his medical condition and the police let him go.

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