Burka ban: French women fined for wearing full-face veil
TWO French women who continue to wear the full-face veil in defiance of a new law banning it in France this morning became the first to receive fines since its enactment.
Hind Ahmas and Najate Nait Ali were caught wearing the niqab in public outside Meaux town hall, eastern Paris, in May.
The women immediately vowed to appeal their case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if the fines are confirmed by a higher court.
Miss Ahmas, 32, was ordered to pay a €120 fine, while Miss Nait Ali, 36, was fined €80. The court chose not to order them to take a citizenship course, as had been requested by the prosecutor.
The two women arrived too late to attend the ruling. One had been refused entry into court in May because she would not take off her niqab to show her face.
"This law forbids women in niqab from leaving their homes and going out in public. It's a kind of life-sentence to prison," he said Yann Gre from the Don't Touch My Constitution association defending the two women.
The women were arrested when they brought a birthday cake for mayor and MP Jean-Francois Copé, who pushed Europe's first anti-burqa law through parliament. Mr Copé is head of President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party.
Since the ban came into force they have organised a number of high-profile appearances, including challenging President Nicolas Sarkozy in person by pitching up to the Elysée Palace in full Islamic attire. They were neither fined nor charged, the women say because the government knows it will lose if the case is taken to the European court.
Legal experts say the law has a good chance of being found in breach of article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which allows freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Other niqab-wearing supporters turned up to support the fined women today. These included Kenza Drider, who today declared her intention to run for French president next year, although she is unlikely to gather the required 500 signatures from politicians to do so.
The sentencing was closely followed across Europe, as a number of countries, including Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland all have - or are planning - similar legislation.
The law is backed by a majority of French but the debate leading up to its enactment saw President Sarkozy accused of stigmatising France’s Muslim minority to win back votes from a resurgent far right.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph recently, Miss Ahmas said: “(The ban) simply violates my individual freedom, my freedom of thought, of religious expression and practice, and I have absolutely no intention of applying it.”
Official estimates put the number of women wearing the full Islamic veil in France at around 2,000 women, from a total Muslim population estimated at between four and six million.