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France’s highest court to rule on burkini ban

© Valéry Hache, AFP | Police patrol a beach on the French Riviera

Video by Eve IRVINE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-08-31

France's highest administrative court will present its ruling Friday on a request to overturn a ban on the 'burkini', as controversy mounts surrounding the full-body swimsuit.

The State Council’s (Conseil d’Etat) ruling – which is expected to set a precedent – will be announced at approximately 3pm Paris time.

France's Human Rights League launched the appeal against the ban by the southern town of Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice, which was one of the first of around 30 French towns to prohibit burkinis.

The debate on the controversial burkini was further fuelled – and dominated international headlines – after photographs emerged of armed police surrounding a veiled woman on a Nice beach, fining her and looking on as she removed her tunic.

'Religious proselytising'

As the scandal surrounding the photos of the police snowballed, the Nice mayor's office denied the veiled woman had been forced to remove her clothing. The mayor said the woman was simply showing the police the swimsuit she was wearing under her tunic, over a pair of leggings, when the picture was taken.

The police issued her with a fine and she then left the beach, the officials added.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he condemned any "stigmatisation" of Muslims, but maintained that the burkini was "a political sign of religious proselytising".

"We are not at war with Islam ... the French republic is welcoming (to Muslims), we are protecting them against discrimination," he told BFMTV.

>> Watch more on “French Connections: Understanding the burkini ban”

But in a sign of the divisions within the Socialist government on the issue, Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said the "proliferation" of burkini bans "was not a welcome development".

'No link to terrorism'

Vallaud-Belkacem, who is of Moroccan origin, took issue with the wording of the ban in Nice which linked the measure to the jihadist attack in the resort town last month in which 86 people were killed.

"In my opinion, there is nothing to prove that there is a link between the terrorism of Daesh and what a woman wears on a beach," she said, using another term for the Islamic State group.

A look at the burkini ban controversy in France

But Valls stood firm, saying the bans were necessary to maintain "public order".

The administrative court in Nice ruled on Monday that the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet was "necessary, appropriate and proportionate" to prevent public disorder after the truck attack in Nice and the murder of a Catholic priest by two jihadists in northern France.

Burkini 'liable to offend'

The burkini was "liable to offend the religious convictions or (religious) non-convictions of other users of the beach", and could be seen as "a provocation", the court added.

The so-called burkini bans never actually mention the word burkini, although they are aimed at the garment, which covers the hair but leaves the face visible and goes all the way to the ankles.

The vague wording of the ban has caused confusion.

Apart from the incident featured in the photographs in Nice, a mother of two told AFP on Tuesday she had been fined on the beach in the resort of Cannes while wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf.

"I was sitting on a beach with my family. I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming," said the 34-year-old who gave only her first name, Siam.

Anouar Kbibech, the head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), said he was "concerned over the direction the public debate is taking".

Kbibech met Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve over the issue on Wednesday.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital, condemned the bans as he headed to Paris Thursday for talks with his French counterpart.

"I don't think anyone should tell women what they can and can't wear. Full stop. It's as simple as that," he told the London Evening Standard newspaper.

One of the world's most secular countries, France strongly separates religion and public life.

The burkini ban issue has raised serious questions in France about women's rights and secularism.

Islamic dress has long been a subject of debate in France, which was the first European country to ban the Islamic face veil in public in 2010, six years after outlawing the headscarf and other conspicuous religious symbols in state schools.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2016-08-25


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