A foreign student had nightmares after a shopper in a Dunedin supermarket told her to either take off her burqa or leave New Zealand.
Farm worker Yuet Rappard appeared before justices of the peace in the Dunedin District Court yesterday and was found guilty of offensive behaviour and fined $500 for telling a student to remove her burqa on May 17.
Rappard, representing herself, did not dispute that she told a University of Otago student to take off her burqa at Gardens New World, but told the court she was expressing her freedom of speech. “I said, ‘Shame on you, you should take it off. When in Rome you should do as the Romans do’.”
Rappard, who moved to New Zealand from the Netherlands when she was a child, believed burqas should be banned and felt “intimidated” when she saw people wearing them.
The student, whose identity was suppressed, said being shouted at, first when she was at the checkout and then a few minutes later outside the supermarket, left her shaken. “I was crying and shocked. I just felt lonely and scared,” she told the court. She had since had nightmares and the incident had affected her studies.
Checkout supervisor Caitlin Jenkins, who was serving the student when the incident happened, said Rappard moved to within 10cm to 15cm of the student’s face before shouting at her to take off the headscarf. “I think she called her a dirty Muslim and I think she said, ‘You’re from New Zealand – take off the head scarf’.”
The incident left her and others in the supermarket shocked and she and another customer apologised to the student. “I was quite offended. I didn’t really know what to do.” When she witnessed the woman shouting at the student again outside the supermarket she told her boss, who called police.
Rappard said that she did not use the words “dirty Muslim” and was not shouting.
Police prosecutor Tim Hambleton said Rappard’s actions were “morally repugnant” and qualified as offensive behaviour because onlookers were shocked.
In finding her guilty, justice of the peace Ashley Broad said he did not deny the importance of freedom of speech, but said people exercising the right “must not be offensive”. Rappard was fined $500 and ordered to pay court costs of $130 and witness expenses of $50.
Speaking outside court, Rappard was unrepentant. The guilty finding was an example of political correctness “gone mad”, she said. “Telling a woman to take a burqa off is in my mind not offensive,” she said. Asked if she would act in the same way again, she said: “Not in a supermarket, probably.”
Muslim University Students’ Association vice-president Bilal Barekzai said people in Dunedin were generally “quite tolerant” and this case was an isolated one. Muslim women chose to wear headscarves and outlawing them would be restricting their freedom, Mr Barekzai said.
Update: See “Fine for burqa remarks questioned”, Otago Times, 29 October 2013
Professors Rex Ahdar and Andrew Geddis, from the University of Otago’s Faculty of Law, are both quoted as opposing the prosecution of Rappard.
Ahdar argues that Rappard’s victim was merely subjected to “your everyday insult”, and short of inciting a riot or threatening to kill someone free speech should not be suppressed. Geddis says that while Rappard “stepped over the line of respect and civility” by calling the student a “dirty Muslim”, she nevertheless had a right to express her opinion.
According to this reasoning, an antisemite should be entitled to harass and intimidate a member of New Zealand’s Jewish community, while shouting “dirty Yid” at their victim. Perhaps professors Ahdar and Geddis might like to try defending that behaviour as a legitimate exercise of free speech and see how it goes down.