Cassandra Bélin’s husband Michaël Khiri with her lawyer Philippe Bataille
A French lawyer has launched a new constitutional challenge to France’s burka ban as part of the defence of a woman whose arrest for wearing Islamic face-covering sparked riots in the French town of Trappes earlier this year. A court in Versailles postponed the trial of 20-year-old Cassandra Bélin until 11 December in order to consider her defence team’s claim the charges against her are unconstitutional.
Bélin, who was not present at the opening day of the trial, was facing trial for defying the ban and insulting a police officer. She denies police claims that she told them, “Allah will exterminate you!” The defence has requested a special procedure by which the country’s Constitutional Council would review a law that has already passed.
France’s controversial ban on face-covering garments on the grounds that they could pose a security threat came into effect in 2010. It was universally seen as targeting garments, such as the burka and the niqab, worn by some Muslim women.
Bélin’s lawyer, Philippe Bataille, says his client’s case throws open other questions. “The Constitutional Council did not take into account the law’s discriminatory character, nor its restrictions on personal dignity and on freedoms of movement and religion,” he told RFI. “I also do not understand how a person veiled in the street poses a threat to public safety. So, I’m hoping to convince the court that a constitutional review of the case is in order. If I succeed, I should hope the Constitutional Council reviews the law itself.”
Riots broke out in the town of Trappes, near Paris, in July after Bélin, who converted to Islam at age 15, was stopped by police for wearing the veil in public and her husband, Michaël Khiri, was arrested, accused of assaulting a police officer. He was later found guilty and sentenced to a three-month suspended sentence.
Two police officers, including one who was involved in the incident, have been investigated for using Islamophobic language on Facebook. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to take action against them.
Update: See “Fine and suspended prison sentence for Cassandra Belin”, Islamophobia Watch, 8 January 2014