French veil ban on trial in new challenge

December 12, 2013 - 7:00:45 am

VERSAILLES: Lawyers for a young woman whose arrest for wearing a full-face veil sparked riots argued yesterday in court that France’s contentious ban on such coverings was unconstitutional and targeted Muslims.

The court said it would deliver a verdict on January 8 on her lawyer’s request for a special procedure to seek a review by the country’s Constitutional Council of a law that has already been passed.

The case relates to Cassandra Belin, 20, who was stopped by police in the gritty town of Trappes, west of Paris, on July 18 for wearing the veil in public.

The incident, in the midst of the month of Ramadan, led to an altercation and her husband Michael Khiri was arrested and accused of insulting a police officer.

He was later found guilty and got a three-month suspended sentence. The incident sparked two nights of rioting in Trappes, which has a large immigrant population.

Belin’s lawyer Philippe Bataille told the court in the western suburb of Versailles that the ban on the veil, which came into force in 2011, impinged on freedom of religion and of movement and went against human dignity.

“How can a woman who is entirely veiled be considered a threat to public order?” Bataille said, adding that the law was discriminatory as “it only applies to Muslims.”

He said one of the policemen had ripped apart Belin’s veil and shoved her mother-in-law, who was accompanying the couple.

“The law must not be put in the hands of Islamophobic officers,” Bataille added.

France argues that the ban, which was approved by the Constitutional Council in 2010 after three years of intense debate, is necessary for security reasons and to uphold the country’s secular traditions.

Critics of the ban say 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.

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