Switzerland's new 'burqa ban' has been criticised as a 'dangerous violation of freedoms' by Amnesty International.

The proposal to ban facial coverings in the country won by a narrow victory in a referendum today.

It was brought by a the same group that organised a 2009 ban on new minarets, reports the Independent.

But full facial veils will still be allowed to be worn inside places of prayer and for “native customs".

Provisional results show 51.2 voted in favour, compared to 48.8 per cent against.

“After the ban on minarets, a majority of Swiss voters has once again backed an initiative that discriminates against a single religious community and needlessly stirs up fears and division,” Amnesty International said.

“The veiling ban is not a measure for women’s liberation, but a dangerous symbolic policy that violates freedom of expression and religion.”

A poster of the initiative 'Yes to the burqa ban' is seen in Oberdorf in Switzerland

Under the plans, people will also be stopped from wearing masks during street protests.

The new law does not mention Islam directly, but the bill has still be dubbed the burqa ban by media and politicians.

“In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms,” Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People’s Party, had said before the vote.

He called facial covering “a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland”.

But the ban has been criticised by a number of groups, with the Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland calling the vote a 'dark day for the community'.

“Today’s decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority,” it said.

People hold signs during a protest hours after the vote

It promised legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and a fundraising drive to help women who are fined.

The proposal predated the Covid-19 pandemic, which has required adults to wear masks in many settings to prevent the spread of infection.

France banned wearing a full face veil in public in 2011 and Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have full or partial bans on wearing face coverings in public.

People from anti-racist, feminist and ecologist associations and parties demonstrate against the burqa ban

A recent study by the University of Lucerne put the number of women in Switzerland who wear a niqab at 21 to 37, and found no evidence at all of women wearing the burqa.

Figures also show Muslims make up 5 per cent of the Swiss population of 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.

The government had urged people to vote against the ban.