France burkini: High­est court sus­pends ban

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

The ban in Vil­leneuve-Lou­bet “se­ri­ously and clearly il­le­gally breached fun­da­men­tal free­doms”, it found, in­clud­ing free­dom of be­lief.

The rul­ing could set a prece­dent for up to 30 other towns that im­posed bans on their beaches, chiefly on the Riviera.

The court will make a fi­nal de­ci­sion on the le­gal­ity of the bans later.

Cor­re­spon­dents in France say the court’s de­ci­sion means that all the bans on burki­nis are likely now to be over­turned but one mayor in Cor­sica has al­ready vowed to keep the ban in place on his town beach.

A hu­man rights group, the Hu­man Rights League (LDH), and an anti-Is­lam­o­pho­bia as­so­ci­a­tion (CCIF) brought the ban in Vil­leneuve-Lou­bet to the court’s at­ten­tion.

Pa­trice Spinosi, a lawyer for the LDH, said out­side court that peo­ple who had been fined could claim their money back.

But the town’s mayor, Lion­nel Luca, said: “We need to de­cide if we want a smi­ley, friendly ver­sion of sharia law on our beaches or if we want the rules of the [French] Repub­lic to be im­ple­mented.”

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional wel­comed the court’s de­ci­sion. The hu­man rights group’s Europe direc­tor, John Dal­huisen, said it had “drawn a line in the sand”.

He said: “French au­thor­i­ties must now drop the pre­tence that th­ese mea­sures do any­thing to pro­tect the rights of women.

“Th­ese bans do noth­ing to in­crease pub­lic safety but do a lot to pro­mote pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion.”

On Thurs­day, Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls de­scribed the burkini as “a po­lit­i­cal sign of re­li­gious pros­e­lytis­ing”.

The French Repub­lic was “not at war with Is­lam”, he ar­gued, but “pro­tect­ing [Mus­lims] against dis­crim­i­na­tion”.

The burkini bans have ig­nited fierce de­bate in France and world­wide.

Opin­ions polls sug­gested most French peo­ple backed the bans, which town may­ors said were pro­tect­ing pub­lic or­der and sec­u­lar­ism.

Mus­lims said they were be­ing tar­geted un­fairly.

The “burkini bans” ac­tu­ally make no men­tion of the burkini. The rules sim­ply say beach­wear must be re­spect­ful of good pub­lic man­ners and the prin­ci­ple of sec­u­lar­ism.

The con­tro­versy in­ten­si­fied af­ter pic­tures and video of po­lice ap­pear­ing to en­force the ban by mak­ing a woman take off an item of cloth­ing prompted wide­spread anger.

The court said lo­cal au­thor­i­ties did not have the power to re­strict in­di­vid­ual lib­er­ties in this way with­out “proven risk” to pub­lic or­der.

A burkini is a full-body swim­suit that cov­ers ev­ery­thing ex­cept the face, hands and feet.

A woman swims in a burkini at Mar­seille in south­ern France.

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