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Five European Countries Slammed for Discrimination Against Muslims

Lies Hebbadj (C) arrives for a hearing at the police Tribunal in Nantes, November 21, 2011, accompanied by his wife and a companion, both of whom were stopped by police last October for wearing the niqab in public.

Muslims in Europe are facing growing discrimination for their religious beliefs, not only by ordinary Europeans but also by governments and politicians. That is the assessment of rights group Amnesty International in a new report released Tuesday.

In some parts of Europe, Muslim women and girls who wear headscarves are having a hard time finding jobs or going to school. Men can be fired from work because they wear beards. And Muslim communities sometimes have little say in key issues that affect their faith - like building a prayer hall. These are among a series of findings in Amnesty International's first comprehensive report on religious discrimination against Muslims in Europe.

Marco Perolini, Amnesty's expert on discrimination in Europe, said, "In recent years, we observed a rising of stereotypes and prejudices on Islam and Muslims in Europe, and in particular put forward only only by part of civil society but also by governments and politicians."

The Amnesty report focuses on Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland - along with France, home to Europe's largest Muslim community. Anti-Muslim sentiment has helped fuel far right parties and leaders in recent years. A case in point: Marine Le Pen of France's National Front, who placed third in presidential elections on Sunday.

The report looks at the impact of particular laws, like French legislation barring women from wearing the full-face veil, or niqab, in public or girls from wearing headscarves in public schools. Amnesty argues these bans and others violate basic European rights.

"We should not forget that some rights - like the right not to be discriminated against, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of religion, are fundamental rights and governments have the duty to respect and fulfill them," said Perolini.

Amnesty points to other examples where religious rights are being compromised. Switzerland bans mosques from having minarets. And in Catalonia, Spain, Muslims are forced to pray in streets because of a lack of prayer hall space and local resistance to building new houses of worship.