French veil ban anti-Muslim, lawyer argues

A lawyer representing a young woman arrested for wearing a full-face veil is trying to get France’s burka ban ruled unconstitutional. The trial of Cassandra Belin, whose arrest was followed by riots in Trappes, near Paris, began in Versailles on Wednesday.

Supporters of the ban, which was approved by the Constitutional Council in 2010 after three years of intense debate, is required for security reasons and to uphold the France’s secular traditions. But Belin’s lawyer, Philippe Bataille, argues that it targeted Muslims and is calling on the council to change its mind.

“The goal of this trial is to talk about this law that was approved too easily,” Bataille told RFI. “With this law, I feel as if the government wanted to defend the Republic with a capital R, against the Islamisation of society. It’s unfair and unacceptable. How does a woman walking on the street completely veiled poses a threat to public order?”

The incident, which occured last July during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, led to an altercation with Cassandra Belin’s husband, who later received a three-month suspended sentence. The clash sparked two nights of rioting in Trappes, which has a large immigrant population.

The lawyer representing the police officers involved in the dispute said some people were using religion as a pretext to attack France’s core values. “Under the guise of a debate undertaken by some people on the freedom of religion, you have people who attack our laws,” Thibault de Montbrial told the court. “Cassandra Belin was not made to undergo an identity check because she was Muslim but because she had commited an offence.”

The court said it would deliver a verdict on 8 January.

The Trappes case is not the only legal challenge to France’s ban on full-face covering in public places. Two weeks ago judges of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg heard a case concerning the complaint of a French Muslim woman who says she is no longer allowed to wear the full-face veil in public places in France since April 2011, arguing that the burka ban violates her right to freedom of expression and assembly and is discriminatory.

RFI, 12 December 2013