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French burka ban anti-Muslim, lawyer argues in Trappes riot case

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A French Islamic convert, Salma, defies the burka ban Reuters

A lawyer representing a young woman arrested for wearing a full-face veil is trying to get France's burka ban ruled unconstitutional. The trial of  Cassandra Belin, whose arrest was followed by riots in Trappes, near Paris,  began in Versailles on Wednesday.


Supporters of the ban, which was approved by the Constitutional Council in 2010 after three years of intense debate, is required for security reasons and to uphold the France's secular traditions.

But Belin's lawyer, Philippe Bataille, argues that it targeted Muslims and is calling on the council to change its mind.

"The goal of this trial is to talk about this law that was approved too easily," Bataille told RFI.

"With this law, I feel as if the government wanted to defend the Republic with a capital R, against the Islamisation of society. It’s unfair and unacceptable. How does a woman walking on the street completely veiled poses a threat to public order?"

The incident, which occured last July during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, led to an altercation with Cassandra Belin's husband, who later received a three-month suspended sentence.

The clash sparked two nights of rioting in Trappes, which has a large immigrant population.

The lawyer representing the police officers involved in the dispute said some people were using religion as a pretext to attack France's core values.

"Under the guise of a debate undertaken by some people on the freedom of religion, you have people who attack our laws," Thibault de Montbrial told the court. "Cassandra Belin was not made to undergo an identity check because she was Muslim but because she had commited an offence."

The court said it would deliver a verdict on 8 January.

The Trappes case is not the only legal challenge to France's ban on full-face covering in public places.

Two weeks ago judges of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg heard a case concerning the complaint of a French Muslim woman who says she is no longer allowed to wear the full-face veil in public places in France since April 2011,  arguing that the burka ban violates her right to freedom of expression and assembly and is discriminatory.

Burka laws across Europe:

  • Belgium: has banned women from wearing the full Islamic face veil in public since 23 July 2011. The law bans any clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in places like parks and on the street.
  • France: Since 11 octobre 2010 it has been illegal to wear a face-covering veil or other mask in public places such as the street, shops, museums, public transport, and parks.
  • Switzerland: The House of Representatives voted against a burka ban but in September 2013 the Italian Swiss canton of Ticino banned women from wearing full-face veils.
  • Denmark: There is currently no ban on religious Islamic dress in the constitution but since January 2010 companies and other public bodies can make their own rules. The government insists that passengers show their faces in airports and that judges strive for religious and political neutrality, and wear  no visible religious symbols, including crucifixes, kippas and headscarves.
  • The Netherlands: The Dutch parliament in January 2012 passed a ban on face-covering clothing.
  • Spain: In recent years, more than a dozen municipalities have enacted burka bans, although last March the Spanish Supreme Court has ruled that a municipal ordinance banning the wearing of burkas in public spaces is unconstitutional.
  • Italy: Several municipalities imposed a ban but these have been suspended by regional administrative tribunals. For largely technical reasons, bans imposed by a municipal government were suppressed. Use of the law 152/1975 – which prohibits the use of motorcycle helmets to evade identification – cannot be extended to cover the veil or burka. In August 2011 a parliamentary commission approved a draft law banning women from wearing veils that cover their faces in public.
  • Germany: No constitutional ban but the German state of Hesse has impose a ban on the full Islamic face veil for public-sector workers. Eight of Germany's 16 states contain restrictions on wearing the hijab by female teachers. Education in Germany is the responsibility of the individual states, which each have their own education ministry. Women in burkas or chadors are forbidden to drive motor vehicles for reasons of road safety.
  • United Kingdom: No law bans the burka but schools are allowed to adopt their own dress code after a 2007 directive that followed several high-profile court cases. Since France imposed a ban on burka and public display of other symbols of religious identity, the British government has been under growing pressure to follow suit.
  • Austria: No law on burka but Women's Minister Heinisch-Hosek said it should be considered in public spaces if the number of women wearing the veil increases dramatically.