French woman faces fine for tearing niqab from tourist’s face

Prosecutors have called for a 63-year-old French woman to be given a two-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of €750 (£659) after she admitted tearing a full Islamic veil from the face of a tourist from the United Arab Emirates.

The woman, a retired English teacher identified only as Marlène Ruby, said she was “irritated” by the sight of two women shopping in Paris in their niqabs. She said that, not realising the pair were foreigners, she initially pulled one of their veils while chastising them in French for covering their faces. Minutes later, upon noticing that the woman concerned had replaced her veil, she became further enraged.

“I tore her niqab off and I shouted. I wanted to create a bit of a scandal,” she told Le Parisien. Her anger, she said, sprang from witnessing the treatment of women in the Middle East, where she used to teach. “I think it is unacceptable for the niqab to be worn in the country of human rights. It’s a muzzle,” she said.

Although she admits removing the veil, Ruby denies allegations that she hit and bit the tourist, who claims to have been so distressed by the incident that she had not returned to France since. The victim’s lawyer said her client was on the receiving end of “an attack on religious freedom”.

In a Paris court, the prosecutor, Anne de Fontette, said the behaviour was not something that could be permitted in France. “Living together requires, quite simply, an acceptance of the other, of the way in which [the other] is dressed,” De Fontette said.

She said that although at the time of the attack, in February, the full Islamic veil was legal attire in France, the accused’s actions would be reprehensible even now – a month after the ban on wearing face-covering veils in public became law.

A verdict is expected on 4 November.

Guardian, 15 October 2010