French veil fines a 'travesty of justice:' Amnesty
France's fines on women for wearing the full-face covering niqab veil, imposed for the first time by a court Thursday, are a "travesty of justice," Amnesty International said.
Police have issued several on-the-spot fines since the ban came into force in April but the hearing saw the first two court-issued fines, and the Muslim women vowed to appeal their case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.
"This is a travesty of justice and a day of shame for France. These women are being punished for wearing what they want," Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia John Dalhuisen said in a statement.
"Instead of protecting women's rights, this ban violates their freedom of expression and religion."
The court in the northern cheese-making town of Meaux ordered Hind Ahmas, 32, to pay a 120-euro ($160) fine, while Najate Nait Ali, 36, was fined 80 euros. It did not order them to take a citizenship course, as the prosecutor had wanted.
The women were arrested when they brought a birthday cake for local mayor and lawmaker Jean-Francois Cope, who is head of President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party that pushed through Europe's first anti-burqa law.
France is not the only country to try to ban the Muslim full-face veil -- Belgium and some Italian cities have similar laws, while other countries are planning to follow suit -- so a European ruling could have broad effect.
French officials estimate that only around 2,000 women, from a total Muslim population estimated at between four and six million, wear the full-face veils traditionally worn in parts of the Arab world and South Asia.
Many Muslims and rights activists say the right-wing president is targeting one of France's most vulnerable groups to signal to anti-immigration voters that he shares their fear that Islam is a threat to French culture.
© 2011 AFP