CAIRO – A leading human rights group has lamented the first fines handed down by the French government against two Muslim women who wore a full-face veil in public as a violation of their rights to freedom of expression and religion.
This is a travesty of justice and a day of shame for France, John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a press release on Amnesty International website on Thursday, September 23.
These women are being punished for wearing what they want.
A French court in Meaux near Paris fined two Muslims women on Thursday for wearing face-veils in public.
Hind Ahmas, 32, was fined 120 euros ($160) for wearing a full-face veil in public.
Another Muslim woman, Najate Naitali, was fined 80 euros in absentia by the court.
The two women had turned up at Meaux town hall in May wearing veils to offer a birthday cake to Mayor Jean-Francois Cope, who is head of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party and helped push the ban through parliament.
The fines are the first to be imposed by a judge in France since a law banning the wearing of the face-veil, or Niqab, came into effect in April.
The law has become a focus of debate in Europe, where right-wing parties hostile to Muslim immigration are gaining support.
The ban, first of its kind in Europe, makes public wearing face-veils liable to a fine of up to 150 euros or lessons in French citizenship.
In the five months since the ban came into force, several women were asked by police officers to remove veils and one paid a fine issued on the spot, but no court had enforced the law.
The law has been denounced by Muslims abroad as impinging on religious freedom, but has met only a limited backlash in France, a strictly secular country where fewer than 2,000 women out of a 5 million-strong Muslim community hide their faces.
Amnesty condemned the law as violating the Muslim women freedom of expression.
Instead of protecting women’s rights, this ban violates their freedom of expression and religion, Dalhuisen said.
When proposing the ban, the French government had argued that the measure was necessary for public safety and to protect women from being pressurized into wearing full face veils.
Yet, Amnesty said that the law forced the face-veiled Muslims to be under house arrest for the fear of being fined if they went out wearing niqab.
We fear that women in France who choose to wear the niqab in public now feel confined to their homes, because it is illegal for them to walk down the streets of their own country dressed as they wish to be dressed, said Dalhuisen.
Amnesty International has warned earlier that Western governments risk with their anti-veil campaigns stigmatizing their Muslim minorities.
The leading rights group added that any legitimate security concerns over face-coverings should be met by targeted restrictions in well-defined high risk locations.
For security purposes, complete public bans on face-coverings are unnecessary and discriminatory, said John Dalhuisen.
For the protection of women, the state has measures at its disposal which are far more appropriate than a ban which confines women who choose to wear the full face veil to their homes.
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