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Burkini ban: French police continue to target women in Islamic clothing despite court ruling

Two women wearing hijabs told to leave Nice beach

Harriet Agerholm
Monday 29 August 2016 10:15 BST
A French court has overturned the burkini ban but mayors are resisting the verdict
A French court has overturned the burkini ban but mayors are resisting the verdict (Vantage)

Police have continued to target women wearing modest Islamic clothing on France's beaches, despite a court overturning the controversial burkini ban.

Two women wearing hijabs and hats were seen on a beach in Nice reportedly being told to leave by a policeman in a boat.

One woman was wearing a long dress and the other a loose trouser suit. The pair were with a young boy.

“The police boat swooped on the women and a male officer spoke to them,” a witness said.

“The women then put all their things away and made their way off the beach. I don’t think any fine was imposed, but they were certainly told to leave,” they told The Daily Mail.

Several mayors of France’s resort towns have vowed to go on imposing a ban on burkinis, despite the country’s highest administrative court ruling the by-laws were “clearly illegal” and violated fundamental liberties.

The Council of State (Conseil d’Etat) said local authorities could only introduce measures restricting personal freedoms if the act represented a “proven risk” to public order – the judges ruled that wearing the full body swimsuit did not.

The judgement applied specifically to a by-law brought in by the commune of Villeneuve-Loubet, the first town to introduce the ban, but the decision sets a legal precedent nationwide.

Nice town hall said it would “continue to fine” women who wore burkinis, while the National Front Mayor of Frejus, David Rachline, insisted the ban was “still valid”.

There was “no legal procedure” against his enforcing the ban, Mr Rachline told AFP.

Ange Pierre Vivioni, Socialist mayor of Corsican commune Sisco, introduced the rule against burkinis after a confrontation between locals and Moroccan bathers. He said the ban would remain in place "for the safety of property and people in the town because I risked having deaths on my hands".

The mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet, said: "We need to decide if we want a smiley, friendly version of Sharia law on our beaches or if we want the rules of the [French] Republic to be implemented."

Prime Minister Manuel Valls backed the mayors. Mr Valls wrote a facebook post in support of the ban saying burkinis were "the affirmation of political Islam in the public space".

The State Council ruling "does not end the debate which has been opened", Mr Valls told the French issue of The Local.

"It is a fundamental debate, which follows on from others."

But the French mayors have been told they must heed the court ruling.

Human rights lawyer Patrice Spinosi, who was behind the Villeneuve-Loubet case, said if mayors did not comply he would take each case to court.

After the verdict, Mr Spinosi said the decision “is meant to set legal precedent” and said anyone who had been fined could claim their money back.

Francois Molinie, a lawyer from the State Council, said the mayors could continue to impose the ban in the short term, but he warned if the cases were taken to administrative tribunals, the courts would follow the State Council's example.

At least 30 cities, resorts and communes have introduced rules prohibiting the full body swimsuit over the summer period, with many more considering the same move.

Although none of the by-laws have specifically mentioned the term burkinis, several officials have made it clear the modest swimsuit is the target.

The ban has ignited fierce debate in France about the country's secular values, Islam and women's rights.

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