LONDON: European countries are discriminating against Muslims for demonstrating their faith, especially in the fields of education and employment, rights group Amnesty International said Tuesday.
In a report focusing on Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland, Amnesty urged European governments to do more to challenge negative stereotypes and prejudices against Islam.
The report was particularly critical of countries that have brought in outright bans on face-covering veils or on the wearing of religious symbols in schools.
"Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes," said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International's expert on discrimination.
"Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the headscarf.
"Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam."
The Amnesty report comes two days after the anti-immigrant National Front achieved a record score for the party in the first round of France's presidential election, with 18 percent of voters backing leader Marine Le Pen.
The report, titled "Choice and prejudice: discrimination against Muslims in Europe", says legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment has not been properly implemented in Belgium, France and the Netherlands.
Employers had been allowed to ban religious or cultural symbols on the grounds that they would annoy clients or colleagues, or that it conflicts with a company's corporate image or supposed neutrality, it said.
Amnesty said this was in direct conflict with European Union law.
"EU legislation prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in the area of employment seems to be toothless across Europe, as we observe a higher rate of unemployment among Muslims," Perolini said.
This was especially true among Muslim women of foreign origin, he added.
In the last decade school pupils have been banned from wearing headscarves or other traditional religious dress in countries including Spain, France, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands, Amnesty said.
The group also criticised Switzerland for a 2009 ban on the construction of new minarets for mosques.
It said that in Spain's Catalonia region many Muslims had to pray in outdoor areas because authorities were rejecting applications to build mosques on the grounds that they were incompatible with Catalan traditions and culture.