France: Lawmakers focus on husbands of Muslim women who wear veil

The Times

Any man who forces his wife to wear a full Muslim veil will be given a sentence of up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of €15,000 (£13,000), under French legislation expected to come into force in the summer. The Bill also envisages a €150 fine for women who choose to wear the face veil in public. “No one may wear in public places clothes that are aimed at hiding the face,” says the text leaked to Le Figaro, the French daily. The report added that legislators had included the possibility for women to avoid a fine by attending a citizenship course.

President Sarkozy of France stalled for ten months before approving a ban, as debate raged among his ministers over the necessity to legislate over a garment worn by fewer than 2,000 women in France. The State Council, an advisory body on legal issues, warned that the ban could be ruled to be in breach of the French constitutional right to freedom.

Jurists have also said that the move could be struck down by the European Court of Human Rights as an attack on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Mr Sarkozy says, however, that he is prepared to run the risk in the name of what supporters say is a struggle between human dignity and religious intolerance.

The President’s critics say the real motivation for the Bill is his desire to win back voters from the ultra-right National Front. The Belgian parliament became the first in Europe to endorse a ban on the head-to-toe burka and the niqab face veil on Thursday. The law, which envisages smaller fines of up to €25 for women wearing veils, is also expected to come into force this summer.

Adam Sage, Paris

The Times

01 May 2010