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France

Woman risks jail for defying veil ban in France

Text by Ben MCPARTLAND

Latest update : 2011-12-16

A 32-year-old mother is set to become the first woman ever to be sent to prison for defying a ban on wearing the full Islamic veil. Full-face veils such as the burka and the niqab were outlawed in public places in France on April 11.

A Muslim woman has become the first person in France to face jail for defying a ban on wearing the full Islamic veil.

Hind Ahmas, 32, was on Monday sentenced to a 15-day “citizenship course” – the first woman in France to receive such a punishment for defying the veil ban. She was also fined 150 euros

Ahmas was refused entry to the Paris court on Monday after she refused to remove her niqab. She was sentenced in her absence.

She told reporters outside the court that she would not comply with the sentence.

“This citizenship course, I will not do it,” she said. “It is the people in the court who need lessons on French citizenship, not me.”

Ahmas was stopped by police for wearing a niqab outside the Elysée presidential palace in central Paris on April 11 - and refused to uncover her face despite police demands.

Her arrest came the same day that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government took the controversial step of banning veils that cover all of the face, such as the niqab and the burqa, in public places.

In France the citizenship courses are imposed as a punishment for minor crimes and are seen as an alternative to a prison sentence.

Should she fail to attend the course, Ahmas could face up to two years in prison and a fine of €30,000.

‘A martyr for women’s rights in France’

French real estate businessman Rachid Nekkaz, 38, who set up a fund to cover any fine handed out to women, is supporting Ahmas.

“It is absolutely possible that she will be sent to jail,” Nekkaz told FRANCE 24.

Nekkas believes that if Ahmas were sent to jail, the outrage could force a change in the controversial law.

“If she is imprisoned she will become a martyr for women’s rights in France,” he said. “It would also tarnish the image of France across the world.”

When France became the first country to ban the wearing of full-face veils, many considered it pointless as only around 2,000 women in the whole country were believed to wear the headwear.

When the first fines were handed out in September, Amnesty International slammed the rulings as a “violation of their rights to freedom of expression and religion”.

The French government argued the law was necessary for public safety and to protect those women who might be forced to cover their faces by their husbands.

Michel Tubiana, Honorory President of France’s Human Rights League (LDH) said he believed Ahmas was being dragged through the courts because the government wanted to be seen to be acting tough on immigrants and Islamists ahead of next year’s elections.

“The government just wants to compete with the National Front for votes at the next election,” he said. “It used to be a case of the National Front trying to win votes from the centre right UMP party but now it is the other way round.”

He believes it is unlikely Ahmas will end up behind bars.

“It’s difficult to imagine she could go to jail for this,” he said.” I think the authorities will try to make her pay fines first.”

Ahmas is hoping to take her case right through the French courts and then on to the European Court of Human Rights.

Date created : 2011-12-15

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