Immigration Minister Eric Besson says France may consider revising current laws in order to strip an Algerian-born man accused of polygamy and defrauding France's social services of his French nationality.
French law could potentially be revised to strip polygamists of their acquired citizenship, Immigration Minister Eric Besson told French radio on Monday amid an escalating controversy over Islam, immigration and women's rights that has captured national headlines.
The incident began on Thursday when a Muslim woman told the media that French police had given her a traffic fine for wearing a niqab, a Muslim face veil that leaves only the eyes exposed, while she was driving in the north-western city of Nantes in early April.
Police issued a €22 ($29) fine, saying her clothing impaired her vision and therefore posed a safety risk.
Lies Habbadj could lose his French citizenship
The immigration minister's comments on Monday followed a request by
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux to look into whether the woman’s husband, Lies Hebbadj, could be stripped of his French nationality.
Hortefeux said he had obtained information suggesting Hebbadj was a polygamist who lived with four women, all of whom received single-parent welfare benefits.
Those allegations are yet to be proven, but on Monday Hebbadj defended himself at a press conference in Nantes, saying, "As far I know, mistresses are not banned by France or Islam. Maybe by Christianity, but not in France."
Hebbadj is said to have acquired French nationality through marriage in 1999.
The law and the veil
According to French civil law, neither polygamy nor welfare fraud can justify revoking a person’s nationality.
Howerver, according to Maitre Brah Rached, a lawyer and expert in rights of foreigners in France, “a person’s nationality may be revoked if it is proven that he or she lied about his or her marital status when granted citizenship.”
If Hebbadj was already married in Algeria before wedding a Frenchwoman, his citizenship may be considered void, the lawyer explains.
In an interview with RTL radio station, Besson admitted revoking a preson's French nationality was a controversial legal matter.
But the immigration minister said he was ready to challenge the current law, insisting that “If French people say one cannot cheat in these areas… then under the arbitration of the president and the prime minister, we could consider changing the legislation.”
The controversy comes just a week after Sarkozy backed a strict public ban of the full Muslim veil, eschewing more moderate proposals that focused on limits in state institutions such as schools and town halls.