Furore over French Muslim woman fined for driving veiled

23rd April 2010, Comments 0 comments

A French Muslim woman fined for driving while wearing a full-face veil -- a garment the government wants to ban in public -- raised a furore Friday over human rights and even threatened her husband's status in France.

A lawyer for the 31-year-old woman accused police in the western city of Nantes of violating her human rights when they stopped and fined her 22 euros (29 dollars) on the grounds that her niqab -- an Islamic veil with a slit for the eyes -- restricted her view so she could not drive safely.

The woman who called herself her Anne -- not her real name -- told journalists Friday about her exchange with the police officer during the incident on April 2.

"'I don't know how it's done in your country but in our country we don't drive like that'," she claimed the police officer said, as she told her story standing next to her lawyer outside the El Kaouthar grocery story in Nantes.

"I said to him: 'Your country is also my country, because I am French.'"

She said she then gave the officer her papers and lifted her veil so he could check her identification, as he issued the fine.

Lawyer Jean-Michel Pollono argued that the fine was "not justified on road safety grounds and constitutes a breach of human and women's rights."

He insisted his client could "move freely" and "her field of vision was in no way obstructed." He added that "the field of vision of a motorcycle rider wearing a helmet is more restricted."

The dress of Muslim women took centre stage in French politics Wednesday when President Nicolas Sarkozy's government said it would push ahead with a ban on wearing a full-face veil in public, despite a warning from state judicial experts that such a law could be unconstitutional.

The Nantes incident took on another political dimension when France's interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, wrote to ask his colleague Eric Besson in immigration to look into the woman's husband, who he alleged belongs to a radical group and is a polygamist.

According to Hortefeux, the husband was born in Algeria and acquired French nationality by marrying the woman in 1999, but he had four wives and 12 children.

"I would appreciate your looking into these matters which, if the facts are confirmed, could lead to the individual losing his French nationality," Hortefeux wrote.

The ban on the Muslim full-face veil has strong support in parliament and Sarkozy's government is determined to press on with a law, which it says would affect only around 2,000 Muslim French women who currently cover their faces.

Pollono said he had complained formally to the state prosecutor. "The ball is clearly in the authorities' court," he said. "Currently no law forbids the wearing of the niqab."

The Muslim woman driver declined to tell journalists her opinion on the proposed ban.

Local authorities meanwhile defended the officer involved saying he legally had discretion to decide whether there was a danger. He "was doing his job. He judged that in the circumstances there was a risk to security," a police source said.

© 2010 AFP

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