Rachid Nekkaz, a French businessman, has called on Austrian Muslim women to defy burqa (face veil) ban in the country and even offered to pay all fines. Nekkaz, who is of Algerian origin, made this remark around a week before the ban comes into effect.
The businessman, who is already paying fine for women who wear the veil in France and Belgium, received a flak from Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.
"I am reaching out to all women in Europe and especially to women in Austria who voluntarily wear the burqa, I will always be there and pay the fines," Nekkaz told Servus TV in an interview, which will be aired Thursday evening, according to Reuters.
"If one accepts religious freedom, one must also accept the manifestations of religion," he said, adding that he wants to protect the people's right to show their religious beliefs.
Earlier this year, the Austrian government passed a legislation banning the use of full-face veils and distribution of Quran from October 1. Women found wearing veils will be liable to a fine of 150 euros.
Kurz, who has slammed Nekkaz for his views on burqa ban, has said, "Austria would not tolerate symbols aimed at establishing a parallel society. Whoever wears niqab or burka in Austria has to deal with the consequence," Kurz said. He also threatened Nekkaz with charges over "incitement to commit an offence" if he protests against the ban.
But who is Rachid Nekkaz and why is he protesting against the ban? Here are a few interesting facts about the French businessman.
He was born in Paris to Algerian immigrants. He started earning small fortunes with start-ups online, entered into property business, and cemented his position as a property businessman.
Why is he opposing the ban?
Nekkaz said that he wants women to walk freely and go out wearing veils. "I am calling for civil disobedience," he told FRANCE 24 in 2011. "I am telling women to not be afraid to go out wearing their veils. And by paying the fines, I am neutering the law, rendering it inefficient and pointless, showing that it doesn't work. It is a humiliation for the politicians."
Zorro of the niqab
Nekkaz has earned the nickname "Zorro of the niqab" because of his stunts. Last year, he was in Switzerland with a woman in a niqab to defy the ban. Along with the woman, the police booked him also for breaking the law and after this stunt, he got the nickname "Zorro of the niqab."
He is against niqab
Nekkaz, who wants women to walk freely wearing their veils, is actually against niqab.
"I personally am against the niqab and the burkini, but I am like the philosopher Voltaire," he told the Telegraph in 2016.
"Once I do not agree, I will fight to the death to give the possibility to these people to express their opinion or to dress as they please. That is freedom. It is a question of principle."
Fine he paid until now
Until 2016, he had paid €245,000 for 1,165 fines in France, 268 in Belgium, two in the Netherlands and one Switzerland, according to the Telegraph. And the recent report suggests that the businessman has paid around 300,000 euros ($360,000) in fines.