Elham Asaad Buaras
On January 8 French court convicted a young Muslim convert for wearing a niqab (full-face veil) in public and threw out her bid to have the country’s controversial ban declared unconstitutional.
One of the three officers involved in the arrest is currently under investigation for using Islamophobic language on Facebook and for “inciting hatred and racial discrimination”.
Cassandra Belin, 20, was also convicted of insulting and threatening three police officers at the time of her arrest, which sparked two days of rioting in Trappes, near Paris, in July, 2013.
She was given a one-month suspended prison sentence for the clash with the police and a €150 fine for wearing the veil.
Belin stayed away from court because she did not want “to be perceived as a symbol of supposed rampant Islamisation.” Belin’s husband, Michael Khiri, 21, was arrested for insulting one of the officers who stopped his wife.
This led to a large crowd gathering on the couple’s housing estate, where hundreds of mainly Muslim immigrants live. Soon bus stops and other public property were being destroyed, as running battles took place between youths and the police.
Belin has worn the niqab all her adult life, was outraged when her husband received a three-month suspended prison sentence. Her lawyers, who argued that the niqab ban impinges on religious freedom and unfairly target Muslims, had asked for an emergency ruling on the constitutionality of the ban before sentencing. But that request was rejected on the grounds that the Constitutional Council had previously upheld the 2011 law.
Belin’s lawyer, Philippe Bataille, said he would consider an appeal and pledged to continue fighting to overturn the ban. “I’m not throwing in the towel,” he said. Anti-Islamophobia group Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France (CCIF) insist the police behaved appallingly during and after the arrest.
A spokesman for the group who have represented Belin told The Muslim News, “Several witnesses attested that the policemen were abusive toward Cassandra, her mother and her husband. This policeman put Islamophobic and vicious status on his Facebook, encouraging the police violence towards Muslim citizens.”
“CCIF regrets that the Court did not take the opportunity to denounce the pervert effects of the law that bans the face covering. We regret that the Court did not take into account the Islamophobic words and behaviours of the policemen. We feel like the trial was not impartial.”
The European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule later this year in a case brought by a French Muslim who argues the burqa ban violates her right to freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and breaches a prohibition against discrimination.
France argues the ban is necessary for security reasons and to uphold the country’s secular traditions. But critics say if security is a consideration, then motorcycle helmets should also be outlawed.
In theory the ban covers all face coverings, but in practice the only arrests have been of women wearing Muslim veils.