French Court Upholds Ban on Muslim Face Veil
A French court on Wednesday convicted a young woman for wearing a full-face Islamic veil in public and threw out her bid to have the country's controversial burqa ban declared unconstitutional, AFP reports.
Cassandra Belin, 20, was also convicted for insulting and threatening three police officers at the time of her arrest, which sparked two days of rioting in the town of Trappes, near Paris, in July of 2013.
She was given a one-month suspended prison sentence for the clash with the police and a 150 euro ($200) fine for wearing the veil.
Her lawyers, who argued that the burqa ban impinges on religious freedom and unfairly target Muslims, had asked for an emergency ruling on the constitutionality of the ban before sentencing.
That request was rejected on the grounds that the Constitutional Council had previously upheld the 2011 law, noted AFP.
Belin's lawyer, Philippe Bataille, said he would consider an appeal and pledged to continue to fight to have the ban overturned. “I'm not throwing in the towel,” he said.
Thibault de Montbrial, the lawyer for the three police officers, welcomed the court's ruling. “We cannot tolerate exceptions to the law of the land,” he said.
The European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule later this year in a case brought by a French Muslim who argues that the burqa ban violates her rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and breaches a prohibition against discrimination.
France outlawed the wearing of a niqab (full face veil) - part of the burqa, or full body covering worn by Muslim women - in public in April 2011, citing security concerns as the reason for the ban. France thus became the first country in Europe to outlaw Muslim headgear that hides the face.
Critics say that if security is a consideration, then motorcycle helmets should also be outlawed. In theory the ban covers all face coverings, but in practice the only arrests have been of women wearing Muslim veils.
In November, former British Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke called for Muslim face veils worn by women to be banned in courts, describing the veils were “peculiar.”
Clarke said that women should not be allowed to wear a veil while giving evidence in court, explaining that his comments "had no trace of Islamophobia" but adding it was important for the court to be able to see a witness's body language.
"It's almost impossible to have a proper trial if one of the persons [is] in a kind of bag," he noted.