Muslims protest as France veil ban goes into effect
12 April, 2011
PARIS: France’s new ban on face veils, mostly used by Muslim women, was met with a burst of defiance on Monday, as several Muslim women appeared veiled in front of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral and two were detained for taking part in an unauthorised protest.
France on Monday became the world’s first country to ban the veils anywhere in public, from outdoor marketplaces to the sidewalks and boutiques of the Champs-Elysees. French President Nicolas Sarkozy set the wheels in motion for the ban nearly two years ago, saying the veils imprison women and contradict this secular nation’s values of dignity and equality. The ban enjoyed wide public support when it was approved by parliament last year.
Though only a very small minority of France’s at least 5 million Muslims wear the veil, many Muslims see the ban as a stigma against the religion that ranks second in terms of number of followers.
About a dozen people, including three women wearing niqabs staged a protest in front of Notre Dame on Monday, saying the ban is an affront to their freedom of expression and religion. Much larger crowds of police, journalists and tourists filled the square. Authorities estimate at most 2,000 women in France wear the outlawed veils. France’s Muslims number at least 5 million, the largest such population in western Europe.
One of the veiled women was seen taken away in a police van. A police officer on the site told The Associated Press that she was detained because the protest was not authorised and the woman refused to disperse when police asked her to. The Paris police administration said another woman was also detained for taking part in the unauthorised demonstration.
It was unclear whether the women were fined for wearing a veil. The law says veiled women risk a €150 ($215) fine or special citizenship classes, though not jail. People who force women to don a veil are subject to up to a year in prison and a €30,000 fine ($43,000), and possibly twice that if the veiled person is a minor. The law is worded to trip safely through legal minefields: The words “women”, “‘Muslim” and “veil” are not even mentioned. The law says it is illegal to hide the face in the public space.