Thursday 8 December 2016

France's top court suspends burkini bans

Peter Foster

Published 27/08/2016 | 02:30

A Tunisian women wearing a burkini walking in the water at Ghar El Melh beach near Bizerte, north-east of the capital Tunis. Photo: Getty
A Tunisian women wearing a burkini walking in the water at Ghar El Melh beach near Bizerte, north-east of the capital Tunis. Photo: Getty
Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: Reuters

France's highest administrative court has ­suspended a ban on full-body burkini swimsuits that has outraged Muslims and opened divisions within the government, pending a definitive ruling, the court said in a statement.

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France's highest administrative court has ­suspended a ban on full-body burkini swimsuits that has outraged Muslims and opened divisions within the government, pending a definitive ruling, the court said in a statement.

The Conseil d'Etat gave the ruling following a request from the League of Human Rights to overturn the burkini ban in the Mediterranean town of Villeneuve-Loubet on the grounds it contravenes civil liberties. It is likely to set a legal precedent for 29 other towns that have banned the garment.

Under the French legal system, temporary decisions can be handed down before the court takes more time to prepare a judgement on the underlying legality of the case. The ban "constituted a serious and manifestly illegal infringement of fundamental liberties," the State Council said in its judgement.

Those wearing the suits in public can be fined for breaching rules on secularism.

The controversial bans on the full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women divided France and provoked criticism from around Europe.

A recent poll suggests that more than two thirds of France supports the ban.

However, the mayor of Sisco, in Corsica, vowed to defy the State Council's ruling and maintain the ban in his town. "This judgement does not affect us here because we had a fight over it (the burkini)," said Ange-Pierre Vivoni, referring to a brawl on a beach in Sisco on August 13 which preceded the ban.

The ruling will also anger the centre-right opposition and some members of the Socialist government.

The decision came a day after Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, called for a full burkini ban in France as he warned that immigrants, minorities and the left were threatening to destroy French identity.

In the first big speech of his campaign to win back the office he lost in 2012, Mr Sarkozy used many ideas of the far-right Front National, promising to reclaim France "for the French".

"I refuse to let the burkini impose itself at French beaches and swimming pools ... there must be a law to ban it throughout the Republic's territory," he said to thunderous applause during a speech in Provence, a stronghold of the Front National.

Mr Sarkozy went on to demand that all minorities and immigrants speak French and promised, for example, that he would never accept a France where men and women had separate timetables at public swimming baths. "Where is the authority when it is the minorities who govern? Never before has so much been ceded to them," said the 61-year-old.

"I will be the president that re-establishes the authority of the state," he said, promising to protect the French and insisting it was not "fascist" to be concerned about security.

The speech was received with horror on the left, with commentators on social media observing that Mr Sarkozy sounded indistinguishable from Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader whom polls suggest could reach the second round run-off in the presidential election next year.

Mr Sarkozy's speech came as debate continued to rage in France over a ban on the burkini after armed police were photographed on a beach in Nice forcing a woman to remove her headscarf and other articles of clothing. The images provoked an outcry on social media, leading Christian Estrosi, the deputy mayor of Nice, to threaten he would prosecute "those who spread photographs of our municipal police officers and those uttering threats against them on social networks".

Support for banning the all-covering swimsuits is not confined to the right, however. Manuel Valls, the French Socialist prime minister, again reiterated his belief that the burkini was a "symbol of the enslavement of women" and must be banned. "We have to wage a determined fight against radical Islam, against these religious symbols which are filtering into public spaces," he said.

Others have spoken out against the ban, including Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, and his counterpart in Paris who both backed campaigners who are fighting to have the ban overturned in France's highest court. "I don't think anyone should tell women what they can and can't wear," Mr Khan said during a visit to Paris on Thursday. Anne Hidalgo, the city's mayor, called for an end to "burkini hysteria".

Irish Independent

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