French court hears first case against women who refuse to accept veil ban

Meaux veil court case
Hind (right) with supporters outside the court

A French court Thursday heard the country’s first case against women refusing to obey a new law banning the wearing of Islamic face veils in public.

The two women, who wear the niqab, were ordered to appear before the court in the town of Meaux, about 40 kilometres east of Paris, for going to the local town hall on May 5 with their faces veiled.

Both the women live in the Paris region. One of them could not be present at the hearing. The other woman, Hind, 31, a mother of a three-year-old, was barred from entering the courtroom after refusing to remove her veil for the duration of the hearing. “I accepted to undergo an identity check (by briefly showing her face). But they refused all compromise,” she told the German Press Agency dpa.

The two women were booked by police after showing up at Meaux town hall with a birthday cake for Mayor Jean-Francois Cope, who is also leader of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative ruling Union for a Popular Majority (UMP). The cake was made of almonds, a word which sounds like the French word for fines (amendes), and was meant as a dig at the government over the timid application by the authorities of the two-month-old law.

While several women have been booked by police, only one has been fined so far, according to Rachid Nekkaz, founder of Don’t Touch My Constitution, a group lobbying against the ban.

Hind said she hoped to be fined, so that she could challenge the law, which she sees as an attack on her freedom of religion, in the European Court of Human Rights.

DPA, 16 June 2011