22 Sep 2011

Niqab fines for women who defied French ban

Two women who continued to wear a veil covering their faces, despite a ban on the practice, are fined by a French court.

Hind Ahmas and Najate Naitali were both fined 120 euros. They immediately said they would appeal against the sentences to France’s supreme court and the European Court of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, a niqab-clad activist who is protesting against France‘s controversial ban on Islamic veils in public places, launched a spoof bid for the French presidency.

Hind Ahmas wears a niqab, despite a nationwide ban on the Islamic face veil, outside the courts in Meaux (Reuters)

The first fine was handed down earlier this summer in a little-noted hearing, but the latest hearing was the highest-profile to date, drawing a small handful or reporters and foreign television crews.

Speaking after the court hearing, Ahmas said she was very satisfied: “Finally, we’ll be able to launch the necessary appeals to bring this before the European Court and obtain the cancellation of this law, which is in any case an illegal law,” she told reporters.

Presidential bid

Their fines were immediately settled by Rachid Nekkaz, a rich businessman who says women should be allowed to dress as they wish.

Mr Nekkaz said: “We have to respect all kinds of clothes. It’s not up to a government to forbid someone from wearing what they want.

“Liberty is part of our constitution. We have to respect this liberty even if we do not agree with it.”

Shortly afterwards, activist Kenza Dryder, who has been among the most outspoken critics of the legislation, arrived in a campaign bus to mark the start of her bid to replace President Nicolas Sarkozy at presidential elections next year.

Plastered on the sides of the bus were pictures of her wearing a niqab and spoofs of the revolutionary symbol of Marianne leading insurgents over the barricade – dressed in a burqa.

Dryder stands no chance of becoming an official candidate as it is highly unlikely she would draw the support of 500 mayors to get on the list of contenders.

But that is not why she was here, she said.

“This may seem like a provocation, but never in this day and age would a woman who is wearing a full veil get votes in a presidential campaign. But I’m doing this out of belief and choice, as a French citizen.”