Contentious French burkini ban before highest court
France’s highest administrative court will on Thursday examine a request to scrap a ban on the Islamic burkini swimsuit which has sparked a furore in the country.
The Human Rights League (LDH) is appealing a decision by a lower court in the Riviera city of Nice which upheld a ban on the outfit by the town of Villeneuve-Loubet. Villeneuve-Loubet, just west of Nice, was among the first of some 30 French towns to ban the burkini, triggering a fierce debate in France and elsewhere about the wearing of the full-body swimsuit, women’s rights and secularism.
The Nice tribunal ruled on Monday that the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder after a succession of jihadists attacks in France, including one in Nice on July 14. The burkini was “liable to offend the religious convictions or (religious) non-convictions of other users of the beach,” and “be felt as a defiance or a provocation exacerbating tensions felt by” the community, it added.
The ruling by the State Council, France’s highest administrative court, will provide a legal precedent for towns to follow around the country. The vague wording of the prohibitions has left beachgoers puzzling over whether it refers solely to the burkini — an Islamic swimsuit that originated in Australia — or to being fully clothed and having one’s head covered on the seashore.
A mother of two told AFP on Tuesday she had been fined on the beach in the resort of Cannes 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.
– ‘She wasn’t even wearing a burkini’ –
Anouar Kbibech, the head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), on Wednesday called an urgent meeting with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, saying he was “concerned over the direction the public debate is taking.”
Anger over the ban was further inflamed when photographs were published in the British media of police surrounding a veiled woman on a beach removing her tunic. “We have seen images of police officers forcing a woman on a Nice beach to remove her tunic when she wasn’t even wearing a burkini,” the CFCM said.
Nice mayor’s office, however, denied she had been forced to remove clothing, telling AFP the woman was showing 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.
One of the world’s most secular countries, France strongly separates religion and public life. 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.However ordinary citizens are allowed to wear the headscarf in public.