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France court issues first fines for wearing full-face veils in public

A French court in Meaux on Thursday fined two Muslim women for violating the controversial French law [materials, in French] that bans wearing full-face veils in public, including the Islamic burqa [JURIST news archive] and niqab [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Although more than 90 women have been cited by police [Guardian report], the fines are the first time a French court has enforced the law [WSJ report] passed in April. Hind Ahmas, 32, and Najate Nait Ali, 36, were stopped in May near the town hall [AFP report] in Meaux where they were carrying an birthday cake for the mayor, Jean-Francios Cope—vocal advocate of the "burqa ban" and head of the ruling rightwing UMP party [official website, in French]—on the occasion on his birthday. The pair has indicated they will appeal to France's highest court, the Court of Cassation [official website, in French], and, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], which would have implications across the continent. The judge issuing the fine is expected to publish his ruling explaining the decision.

Since France passed its law in April, several other European countries have proposed or passed similar legislation. In August, an Italian parliamentary commission approved a draft law [JURIST report] that bans women from wearing full-face veils in public. In July, Belgium implemented a law banning women from wearing the burqa [JURIST report] in public, with violators facing the possibility of fines or up to seven days in jail. A French Muslim couple living in the UK filed a challenge [JURIST report] in June in the ECHR over the French ban on full face coverings. Also in June, a Spanish court upheld a city ban on veils in municipal buildings for identification and security purposes. Last October, the French Constitutional Council ruled that the ban conforms with the Constitution [JURIST report]. Also in October, Dutch politician Geert Wilders said that the Netherlands will ban the burqa [JURIST report] as part of the government's plan to form a minority coalition. In August 2010, Austria's conservative Freedom Party [official website, in German] called for a special vote [JURIST report] on whether to ban face veils and the construction of minarets, two of the most visible symbols of the Islamic faith. In July 2010, Spain's lower house of parliament rejected a proposal [JURIST report] to ban the burqa and other full face veils by a vote of 183 to 162 with two abstaining.

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