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EU court upholds burqa ban

July 1, 2014

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld a French law banning women from covering their faces in public, affecting Muslim women's rights to wear burqas. The case was filed by a 24-year-old woman last year.

Burka Verbot Frankreich Frauen

After deliberating over the case for more than half a year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that France's law prohibiting people from covering their faces in public was not a violation of human rights.

There was no immediate comment available from the Strasbourg court following the ruling.

A 24-year-old woman had filed the case last year, saying that the French law violated her right to privacy, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Her decision to wear a niqab - a veil with a slit for the wearer's eyes - was her own and had not been imposed on her by her husband or family, she said.

The French law was introduced in 2011 under former President Nicolas Sarkozy and supported by the current socialist government under President Francois Hollande. Violators of the ban face a 150 euro ($203) fine if they wear a full body veil (burqa) or one concealing the entire face except for the eyes (naqib).

During the case, the plaintiff's British lawyer, Tony Muman, described her as a "perfect French citizen with a university education."

"She speaks of her country with passion…She is a patriot," Muman said.

While some in France contend the law liberates Muslim woman who are sometimes forced to cover their hair or their faces, Muslims have countered that the ban stigmatizes their religion.

Last week, France's top appeals court upheld a ruling in favor of the law in a separate landmark case involving a daycare worker who had been fired for refusing to remove her headscarf while at work. The plaintiff, Fatima Afif, lost her position in 2008. In its ruling, the court cited the private daycare's internal rules which stated that freedom of religion could not stand in the way of the principles of secularism and neutrality.

kms/se (AFP, epd, dpa)