France burqa ban passes last legal hurdle

Last Updated: Thursday, October 7, 2010 - 23:56

Paris: France`s top legal authority on Thursday
approved a law banning full-face veils in public, the last
hurdle for the ban, which aims to protect women`s rights but
has been criticised as stigmatising Muslims.

The Constitutional Council, which had previously
warned that banning the veil may be unconstitutional, said it
approved the version of the bill, which has been passed by
both houses of parliament, after a final review.

It judged however that the ban, due to enter force
early next year, would be unenforceable in public places of
worship, where it may violate religious freedoms.

"The ban on covering the face in public places cannot
constrain the practice of religious freedom in places of
worship that are open to the public," the council said in its
judgement.

Apart from this, the council "judged that the law
conforms to the constitution," it wrote.

The text makes no mention of Islam, but President
Nicolas Sarkozy`s government promoted the law as a means to
protect women from being forced to wear Muslim full-face veils
such as the burqa or the niqab.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon immediately hailed the
judgement as "an important decision to affirm the values of
the Republic with respect for freedom of conscience and
religion," in a statement.

The ban prohibits anyone from covering their face in
public, defined broadly to include not just government
buildings and public transport, but all streets, markets and
thoroughfares, private businesses and entertainment venues.

Opponents say it breaches French and European human
rights legislation.

Once in force, the law provides for a six-month period
to explain to women already wearing a face veil that they face
arrest and a fine if they continue to do so in any public
space.
"The government is preparing measures to inform
people, necessary for the law to be properly applied,
particularly for the attention of people who harm the founding
principles of our democracy by extreme behaviour," Fillon
said.

A woman who chooses to defy the ban will receive a
fine of 150 euros (USD 195) or a course of citizenship
lessons. A man who forces a woman to go veiled will be fined
30,000 euros and serve a jail term of up to one year.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, October 7, 2010 - 23:56

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