April 12th, 2011
02:27 PM ET

First woman cited under France's veil ban

By the CNN Wire Staff

Police in the Paris suburb of Yvelines have issued what is believed to be the nation's first fine for wearing an Islamic veil in public.

A 28-year-old woman was fined 150 euros (about $215) Monday evening, the same day the law went into effect, according to police.

Police declined to specify whether the woman was wearing a burqa, a full-body covering that includes a mesh over the face, or a niqab, a full-face veil with an opening for the eyes.

Both are banned by the new French law, which has drawn criticism from some human rights and religious organizations and some Muslims as discriminatory. France has Western Europe's largest Muslim population.

Police in Paris arrested two veiled women Monday, but said those arrests were for participating in an unapproved demonstration.

The law allows women who are cited for wearing an illegal veil to pay the fine or perform community service. It reserves harsher treatment for anyone who forces a person to wear a veil. That is punishable by a year in prison and a 30,000 euro fine (about $43,300). Forcing a minor to wear the veil is punishable by two years in prison and 60,000 euros.

Authorities say the prohibition is necessary for national security reasons as well as to uphold French values of equality, dignity and national identity.

The French Constitutional Council said the law does not impose disproportionate punishments or prevent the free exercise of religion in a place of worship, finding therefore that "the law conforms to the Constitution."

But critics argue the government has no business telling people what clothes to wear or how to practice their religion.

"I am free to do whatever I want and this is a choice that I want to make," wrote Hebah Ahmed, a blogger. "And just because somebody doesn't accept my interpretation of Islam or personally like it doesn't mean that we can use laws to violate people's freedom of expression and freedom of religion."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: France • Islam

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