A court in Versailles near Paris on Wednesday handed down a 150 Euro-fine and a month-long suspended prison sentence to a woman who had contravened the French law banning the wearing of a niqab or full-face veil in public.
The court also threw out her demand that the law be declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it infringes freedom of dress. The law bans any covering that “hides the face in public”.
Cassandra Belin, the woman whose identity check led to rioting in the Paris suburb of Trappes was not present during the hearing, which took place last month. She is a Frenchwoman who has converted to Islam. Her companion, Mickael Khiri, who has already been condemned to a three-month suspended prison sentence, was present in court to hear the verdict.
The young woman preferred to stay away from the glare of the media. Her arrest last year had led to large-scale rioting in the Parisian suburb of Trappes where she is a resident. It is a poor neighbourhood peopled mainly by immigrants, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa or North African countries such as Algeria, Tunisia or Morocco. There is a growing feeling of alienation in France’s Muslim population with ghettoisation and a rising tide of Islamophobia. France is home to an estimated five million Muslims, the largest concentration of Muslims in Europe. It is also home to the largest number of Jews in Europe. Tensions between the country’s Jews and Muslims have been growing over the past several years, as has been a general unease over the rise of radical Islam.
The anti-niqab law was passed on grounds of security, with lawmakers carefully skirting the issue of religion. The woman’s lawyer Advocate Bataille attempted to argue that the law as voted by the French Parliament on 11 October 2010 was unconstitutional because it violated his client’s freedom to practice her religion. The law, he argued, singled out Muslims and stigmatised them because of their religion.
Complaints have been lodged with the European Court of Human Rights and the court in Versailles threw out the request to review the law’s constutionality because other legal avenues continue to remain open to the plaintiff.