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September 22nd, 2011
03:56 AM ET

Burqa ban opponent fined by French court

By Saskya Vandoorne, CNN

(CNN) - A woman fighting France's ban on Islamic face coverings was fined 120 euros ($162) Thursday for wearing a burqa, the first fine handed down by a French court over the controversial law.

Hind Ahmas sought out the punishment so she could take her fight to a higher court, she told CNN. A second woman, Najet Ait Ali, was fined 80 euros ($108) in the same court appearance.

"I am happy to be fined, since I can now take this to the European Court of Human Rights," Ahmas said.

"It's not about the amount I have to pay. It's about the principle," she said, calling the ban "pure provocation. I'm fighting to be able to walk freely in the street."

Rachid Nekkaz, of a group called Don't Touch My Constitution, later turned up at the courthouse with a check to cover the cost of each fine, offering to pay the penalty for every woman fined for wearing a face covering.

The court hearing came after the website of the city of Rennes was defaced by a hacker in protest at the burqa ban and a ban on public street prayers that went into effect last Friday.

"You allow women to walk around half-naked but you don't allow Muslim women to cover their body? Shame on you France, Muslims are people too," read a message posted on the city website.

The site was attacked at about 6 p.m. Monday night and was operating normally again about 24 hours later, said city spokesman Manuel Contin, who said he did not know why Rennes was targeted.

The court did not explain why the two women got different fines. They were not ordered to take citizenship courses - another possible sentence under the law that came into effect in April.

They were arrested May 5.

A woman wearing a burqa and three wearing hijabs - which do not cover the face and so are not illegal - came to court to hear the verdict. There was also a small but noticeable police presence at the municipal courthouse in Meaux, east of Paris.

Ahmas and Ali are not the first women to be fined under the controversial ban.

Police in the Paris suburb of Yvelines issued an on-the-spot fine that was believed to be the nation's first punishment for breaking the law the day it went into effect.

A 28-year-old woman was fined 150 euros (about $215) April 11, 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 April 11, 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's France Costrel contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: France • Islam

soundoff (692 Responses)
  1. Mj

    People may have the right to wear whatever they want, but it is important for the faces to be identifiable. You wont walk into a bank wearing a mask; if you were stopped by police while riding bike, you will be asked to take off your bike; one is not allowed to wear sunglasses when taking a picture for license or a passport.... the reason being, people need to be identifiable and recognizable. It is just common sense. You wouldnot want a man wearing a burqa covering his face, walking into a womans restroom!!
    In Germany, one is not allowed to wear a mask when participating in public demonstrations.

    Let us be reasonable and not start crying descrimination all the time. Personal freedom has limitations.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Dan

      Oh, the horror of a man walking into a women's restroom! They might see women washing their hands!! (You realize they have stalls, right?)

      September 22, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  2. roadrunner

    Well done France! Islamic veils should be banned here in US, it's a shame to humanity and to keep it simple... adapt and if you don't like it, go back to your countries.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Dan

      And if they were born in France?

      September 22, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Hank

      Well Roadrunner- my response to Lee is the same for you.
      Lee -you are naive, arrogant and ignorance individual. I am living here and not Muslims but I respect individual religion. Wearing a ski mask is not a religion and only a person like you would think otherwise. If this happens to be your female relative's religion. Now, would you have a problem to have the government impose this kind of law on her? Beat you would have a problem with that. Just think broadly but not arrogantly. It is not about 9/11 and it is about the right of religion practice. Unfortunately, you and France have become too paranoid.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • nemo12

      We don't need to ban them because I think the message is out that wearing the full head/face gear will only get you dirty looks and a pat down. I fully support religious freedom (I am American) and the head scarves are fine. Anything else is making a statement that has nothing to do with religion and has no place here.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  3. M. Sullivan

    I completely agree with the law, but will will law enforcement do on Halloween, when thousands of adults & kids put on costumes that cover the face?

    September 22, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  4. Alina77

    You dont like it-stay home, you dont want to respect other country rules – stay home. When our women go to Arabic country's they wearing scarfs (because they respect those country rules). Now Islamic people will think twice before moving to France. They do have choice.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • HOLY

      A lot of muslim countries respect the rights of christians and westerners, they have beaches for them where
      western women can go and put on a thong/one piece and bathe (example morocco, UAE, Turkey etc not in Saudi Arabia) I agree) Indonesia has a large muslim population but they tolerate the clothing and life styles of christian minorities living amongs them.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  5. joseph iggy

    The Full burqa SHOULD NOT allowed out of Muslim territories.
    "What If" one has a Bomb strapped to their chest?
    We all have to think about safety. Till we fully stop terrorism, maybe we can feel comfortable with Muslims wearing full Burqas.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Dan

      You don't need a burqa to strap a bomb to your chest. A trench coat will do just fine. Banning those, too? Stop the fear mongering.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  6. Cubikrubik

    I am happy to be fined, since I can now take this to the European Court of Human Rights," Ahmas said. For real? You came to that country, so accept it's laws. DON'T LIKE IT? GTFO...

    September 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Dan

      Why are you assuming anyone wearing a burqa is an immigrant? Furthermore, you realize that the burqa-ban law in France is quite new? If a law is passed in America banning something important to you, are you going to leave? More likely, you'll work to change the law.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Cubikrubik

      Dan, good luck with that! Lets start from smoking in the bars law. Come back when you sucseed...

      September 22, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  7. S

    In the USA there are laws that do prevent religions from practicing their beliefs to the fullest. Polygamy is against the law and is held to be a command of God by the FLDS. Christians believe in prayer and are not allowed to pray publicly in school. The list could go on.
    In France the country believes for the sake of safety we need to see the faces of people. Anyone could hide behind a veil, conceal a weapon or commit a terrorist attack under the guise of the burqa.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Dan

      You don't need a burqa to commit a terrorist attack. A trench coat is just as effective. Furthermore, plenty of LDS adherents practice polygamy on an ongoing basis. There's even a TV show about it. The law isn't enforced.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  8. Buckmeat

    If they (muslims) don't like what's on the menue then they need to go to another country that will serve them what they want.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  9. duh

    Why don't I just start walking around in my underwear and say it is part of my religion. This whole thing is absurd. If you want to wear something like the burqa then go live in Afganistan and live the whole experience.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Dan

      Happens all the time on the beach (bikinis) and I see peoples underwear every time I go to the mall.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  10. strangways

    more proof that Muslims just aren't interested in assimilating. if they want to wear the burqa, live by sharia law, embrace "honor killings", then let them go back to the countries they came from where it's part of the norm. It just ISN'T in the West. it's that simple. We've already caved on allowing mosques to be built wherever they want – how about allowing a church to be built in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, etc.? we all know how that would go over.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Dan

      Why do you assume no burqa-wearing French Muslims were born in France?

      September 22, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Cubikrubik

      Dan, to figure that out go to any college or school and see how many seccond generation muslims wearing it. You'll fail miserably.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  11. Lee

    I agree with France and everyone here that said the USA should follow. If Muslims want to maintain such a custom then stay where that custom is enforced by law.

    I do not want a man in a ski mask next to me at the bank or airport and I do not want a woman wearing a burqa next to me at the bank or airport either. If you want to be incognito don't come to the western world.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Hank

      Lee -you are naive, arrogant and ignorance individual. I am living here and not Muslims but I respect individual religion. Wearing a ski mask is not a religion and only a person like you would think otherwise. If this happens to be your female relative's religion. Now, would you have a problem to have the government impose this kind of law on her? Beat you would have a problem with that. Just think broadly but not arrogantly. It is not about 9/11 and it is about the right of religion practice. Unfortunately, you and France have become too paranoid.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  12. kevin

    When in rome people-take your effin hood off and live like a normal human being...when we go to "there" countries we have to abide by their laws!!!
    "they" just want 15 mins of fame...I might go streeking in their streets one day..lets see how they like that...
    why do we have to kiss everones ass that comes here to AMERICA...If you dont like it here go back to your 3rd world countries that you left..dont try and change us...

    September 22, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  13. GG12

    It is sad to see the amount of hate being put on display here. I support the free exercise of religion and I do not see how a woman choosing to practice her religion in this manner should be prohibited. Go ahead throw examples out about covered women acting as suicide bombers, but if I remember correctly someone tried to blow a plane up with their shoes. Should we no longer be allowed to wear shoes? I have been to Iraq for over 30 months of my life, and worked directly with both Iraqi military and civilians. Some are religious some are not, but I never felt that their religion was one of hate. Maybe their religious coverings make you uncomfortable, don't look. Maybe some women are being forced to wear them, but you do not know this for sure. Before you move to restrict another person's right to practice their religion, think about how you would fight back if your right to practice (or not practice) your religion were outlawed.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • S

      When my religious freedoms and rights become outlawed I will pick up and move to a location where I can practice them without fines, prison or restriction. They have the same opportunity.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Wraith

      I think you're missing the overall point, GG. While, yes, it was stated that this is for security purposes, the bigger picture is assimilation versus migration. If you move to a country, you abide by its laws.

      Immigration is good for countries–so as long as the immigrants become *part* of the host country's culture, not demanding that their culture be installed in the host country.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Alex

      Would you allow an Eskimo to exercise his traditional trade of clubbing a baby seal in public, say in NYC? Would you be OK with some girl from African tribe running around naked in the streets? If not – then why? They've been doing that for centuries...
      So, I don't care how peaceful and loving Islam is, the point is bigger; some things are just not socially acceptable.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • me

      If your religion belief goes against security laws, which one you follow? You can't deny that covering all you body including your face can be a higher security risk than wearing regular clothes. People need to adapt to the laws that are trying to keep harmony among all people in the society. If you don't like this, then you probably need to look at yourself and analyze why you don't want this?

      September 22, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  14. Bubba1234

    It’s funny that when foreigners travel to the middle east we change our attire out of respect for their ways, but when they improve their quality of life by moving to another country they fight for what they left. Kudos to France.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  15. American Girl

    If they want to cover their faces they should go back to their country!!! This is the LAW in France, if you don't like it MOVE!! YES WE IN AMERICA SHOULD HAVE THE SAME LAW!!!!!

    September 22, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Dan

      Go back to which country, exactly? If they were born in France...?

      September 22, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Elizabeth

      Hey Dan, If you were born in France, you should abide by French law. Bottomline, no if, ands, or buts about my friend.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  16. gary

    I applaud France for doing this but here in the USA its not a problem Im in Charlotte,NC and I see more and more of these and we do nothing.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Elizabeth

      In my opinion, they are in our face, taunting us with this cr@p. I live in a part of Texas where there is a high concentration of Muslims, and more and more, they are going to the extreme dress and it's purely designed to taunt.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  17. hsan

    "I'm fighting to be able to walk freely in the street."
    at first, that seems so ridiculous. after considering all the insanity spouted by others who are brainwashed, it's easier to see why this person has no idea she has been living in shackles.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Steve

      That's not your call to make. You shouldn't have the right to tell her what she can wear. You say that she's in shackles now, but you're the one who wants to prevent her from wearing something that causes no harm to yourself. Who's the one in shackles?

      September 22, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • hsan

      i'm merely expressing my opinion on her statement that she is not free, which i don't find to be due to the laws of her country of residence, but rather her 'choice' of religions.
      i don't necessarily take any issue with what she 'chooses' to wear, other than i find it a symbol of oppression. sure, conservative women here in america likely won't wear a short skirt, but to some degree, that's personal opinion, not the sort of thing that gets you killed for dishonoring the family.
      what one believes should be one's choice, but not everyone seems to have that luxury, which was the point of my comment.
      in the interest of full disclosure, i am free from religion.

      September 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  18. ndlily

    For those of you comparing scantily clad women to women in burquas, while I agree that scantily clad is disgusting, you can see the gun or the bulge of C4, or if it's actually a woman. Hence the point of the law. Public safety should trump religion. If you don't like it, stay at home.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  19. Steve

    Using national security to justify this ban is bogus. This does not increase security at all, and is just lightly veiled prejudice against Muslims, which the government has no business being a part of. You may not agree with the practice of wearing a burqa, but no one is forcing you to wear one. Everyone should have the freedom to choose their own clothing, since this choice does not causing harm to anyone else. It's hard to believe there are so many Americans in these comments who agree with the Burqa ban, since it flies in the face of one of the most important foundations of our country; freedom of religion. Do you think France will ban children from covering their faces during Halloween? I doubt it.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Lee

      Steve they have the right to wear a burqa; just not in France. I wish you would walk into a bank wearing a sporting face mask, you will be asked to remove your mask before being helped. Not all Muslim women will comply with that request. No one is forcing these women to go into public with their face covered. As for Halloween, if the child is asked to remove their mask for identification purposes I believe the child would do so. A Muslim woman in a burqa believes that she has the right to refuse to identify herself. No one has the right to refuse to identify themselves.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  20. DrJudge2002

    I am with France on this one. Each country has the right to set their own rules. If you don't like it, and wearing such garmet is so important to you, then move to the country where it is required. Like someone else pointed out, when women journalists or politicians go to the country where head covering is mandated, they obey the law. So, please do the same. The whole notion that it somehow violates human rights is a nonsense. If you were unable to practice your religion, I would agree, but quite frankly, covering your body and your face has nothing to do with the religion you are practicing.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • HOLY

      Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt (large muslim countries with christian minorities) should have a right to ban western clothing and christian crosses in public. don't cry discrimination against christians then.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Dan

      So you have no desire to have any current American laws changed? Your logic seems to be that if you disagree with any law, you need to move. That's completely inane.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:01 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.