PARIS (Reuters/AFP) Muslim women could be fined for wearing full-length veils in public in France under a bill approved overwhelmingly on Tuesday by the lower house of parliament. The legislation, which still has to be vetted by the Constitutional Council, Frances highest constitutional authority, and approved by the Senate, could make France the second European country to criminalise wearing the burqa or niqab. France is home to Europes largest Muslim minority, with about 5 million Muslims, but it is thought that only about 2,000 women wear the full-length veil. The bill, which critics say stigmatises immigrants, bans people from wearing, in a public place, garments designed to cover the face. Offenders would be fined 150 euros ($189) or required to take part in a citizenship class. Forcing someone to cover their face would be punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a 30,000 euro fine. The law does not apply if the face is covered for carnivals or artistic events. In the vote, 335 members of THE 577-seat National Assembly approved the ban, with just one against. Opposition socialist and Green lawmakers abstained. Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said the approval was a success for French republican values of liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism. However, the Council of State, Frances top legal advisory body, has already queried whether a ban is compatible with the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Council of Europe has also said it is opposed to bans on veils, and that they deny women a basic right. Those in favour of the law say burqas, which cover the body from head to toe, and niqabs, which leave only the eyes uncovered, demean women and are a threat to public security. Opponents say such laws discriminate against Muslims and create a climate of suspicion and hostility towards immigrant communities. Businessman Rachid Nekkaz, who tried to stand in the 2007 presidential election, said in a statement published in several newspapers that he would use proceeds from property sales for a one million euro fund to help women pay fines under the new law. Strongly the vote to ban the wearing of face-covering veils in public, Amnesty International condemned said it violated the rights to freedom of expression and religion. The London-based human rights group had written to all French parliamentarians urging them to reject the bill, which now goes to the Senate in September. A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or niqab as an expression of their identity or beliefs, said John Dalhuisen, Amnestys expert on discrimination in Europe. Governments should instead be looking to strengthen efforts to combat the discrimination faced by Muslim women, both in their communities and in the broader societies in which they live, Dalhuisen said.