At least two women have been briefly detained in France while wearing Islamic veils, after a law banning the garment in public came into force. Police said they were held not because of their veils but for joining an unauthorised protest, and they were later released.
France is the first country in Europe to publicly ban a form of dress some Muslims regard as a religious duty. Offenders face a fine of 150 euros (£133; $217) and a citizenship course. People forcing women to wear the veil face a much larger fine and a prison sentence of up to two years.
The two women detained had taken part in a demonstration outside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Police said the protest had not been authorised and so people were asked to move on. When they did not, they were arrested.
One of the women, Kenza Drider, had arrived in Paris from the southern city of Avignon, boarding a train wearing a niqab, and unchallenged by police. “We were held for three and a half hours at the police station while the prosecutors decided what to do,” she told AFP news agency. “Three and a half hours later they told us: ‘It’s fine, you can go’.”
A French Muslim property dealer, Rachid Nekkaz, said he was creating a fund to pay women’s fines, and encouraged “all free women who so wish to wear the veil in the street and engage in civil disobedience”.
Mr Nekkaz said he and “a female friend wearing the niqab” were arrested at a separate demonstration in front of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Elysee Palace. “We wanted to be fined for wearing the niqab, but the police didn’t want to issue a fine,” he told AFP.
See also “France arrests Muslim women as full-face veil ban begins”, AFP, 11 April 2011