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Spain lawyer alleges discrimination after judge orders her to remove headscarf

[JURIST] A Spanish lawyer said Wednesday that she has filed a complaint with the General Council of the Judiciary [official website, in Spanish] alleging abuse of power and discrimination after a National Court judge asked her to leave the courtroom for declining to remove her hijab, or Muslim headscarf [JURIST news archive]. Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez asked lawyer Zoubida Barik Edidi to leave his courtroom last month, in which she was assisting the defense but not actually representing the defendant in a terrorism trial. Edidi has also lodged a complaint with the Madrid Bar Association. The lawyer has participated in several trials in which she was not asked to remove her headscarf, and she claims that her greatest motivation for filing the complaints is so that she may be certain in the future about whether she may wear her hijab in a courtroom. Article 37 of the General Statute of the Legal Profession [text in Spanish, PDF] governs the attire of lawyers and specifies only that lawyers must appear in courts wearing a robe and may wear a biretta, or traditional cap. A lawyer's attire is limited in the statute only in that that garb must be distinctive solely to the profession and appropriate for the dignity and respect of the law and the legal profession. In September, Bermudez required [El Pais report, in Spanish] a witness wearing a burqa to uncover her face in order to testify, but allowed her to do so facing away [video, in Spanish] from the court audience.

Spain has declined to address religious symbols in secular life with a specific national policy. The Ministry of Education [official website, in Spanish] allows local school councils to determine whether to allow display of religious symbols. The Ministry of Justice [official website, in Spanish] defers to the discretion of each individual judge to decide on religious symbols in the courtroom, including attire. Other countries in Europe continue to experience tension between religious and secularist values. Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that displaying crucifixes in a public school classroom violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], eliciting outcry [JURIST report] across the Italian political spectrum. In July, a commission created by the French National Assembly [official websites, in French] began hearings [JURIST report] to consider whether to enact laws banning the wearing of burqas or other "full veils" after French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] strongly criticized [JURIST report] the practice. Last December, the ECHR unanimously ruled [JURIST report] that there was no human rights violation when a French school expelled two students for refusing to remove their headscarves.

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