Controversial "burkini" swimsuit is not banned, court rules


27 Aug 2016 | by Courtesy of BBC online
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Mayors of French towns who banned the controversial "burkini" swimsuit have been warned they must heed a court ruling suspending the action.

Human rights lawyer Patrice Spinosi said if any mayors did not comply, he would take each case to court.

At least three mayors have said they will keep the bans on their beaches.

On Friday the Council of State found the ban in one town, Villeneuve-Loubet, "seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms".

The decision is expected to set a precedent for all the 30 or so French resorts, chiefly along the Riviera, that issued similar bans.

Villeneuve-Loubet's mayor, Lionnel Luca, responding to the ruling, 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."

A Muslim woman wears a burkini, a swimsuit that leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, on a beach in Marseille, France, August 17, 2016Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe burkini leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed

The burkinis were not mentioned by name in the bans, with the order simply saying beachwear must be respectful of good public manners and the principle of secularism.

Authorities said they were concerned about the public order implications of the religious clothing, especially after attacks in Nice and Paris carried out by people influenced by Islamist extremism.

But while opinion polls suggested most French people backed the bans, they ignited fierce debate in France and around the world, with Muslims saying they were being unfairly targeted.

The controversy deepened when images circulated showing police on a beach appearing to enforce the ban, and a woman removing an item of clothing.

The council of state will make a final decision on the ban's legality at a later date.

'Still valid'

Mr Spinosi represents the Human Rights League (LDH) which, along with the anti-Islamophobia association (CCIF), took Villeneuve-Loubet to the highest administrative court in the land.

"It is a decision that is meant to set legal precedent," Mr Spinosi said to reporters outside court. He said people who had been fined could claim their money back.CCIF head Marwan Muhammad praised the ruling but said it "cannot take back the harm which was caused",

However, town hall authorities in Nice and Frejus, as well as in the Corsican village of Sisco, have vowed to keep the bans in place.

The far-right mayor of Frejus, David Rachline, told the AFP news agency that his ban was "still valid" and there was "no legal procedure" against it.

A spokesperson for Nice town hall said it would "continue to fine" women wearing full Islamic coverings on the beach.

In the town of Sisco in Corsica, mayor Ange-Pierre Vivoni said the ban would remain "for the safety of property and people in the town".

Mr Sisco said it followed clashes this month between villagers and Muslim bathers.

French PM Manual Valls wrote on Facebook in support of the bans, saying burkinis were "the affirmation of political Islam in the public space".


What is a burkini?

  • A burkini is a full-body swimsuit that covers everything except the face, hands and feet
  • The name is a mix of the words "burka" and "bikini"
  • Unlike burkas, burkinis leave the face free
  • Burkinis are marketed to Muslim women as a way for them to swim in public while adhering to strict modesty edicts
  • The French bans have referred to religious clothing and as they were loosely phrased, came to be understood to include full-length clothing and head coverings worn on the beach - not just burkini swimsuits

Why have the bans been imposed?

After a militant Islamist ploughed a lorry into families on the seafront at Nice on 14 July, killing 86 people, the city's authorities said a ban was "a necessity".

Local leaders have described their actions as appropriate and proportionate.

But the bans are not just a response to a spate of deadly jihadist attacks on French soil. France has long-standing laws on secularism, and the Nice ban focused on "correct dress, respectful of accepted customs and secularism, as well as rules of hygiene and of safety in public bathing areas".


What French law says on secularism and religious clothing

  • In 2010, France became the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public
  • A 2004 law forbids the wearing of religious emblems in schools and colleges
  • The 1905 constitution aims to separate Church and state. It enshrines secularism in education but also guarantees the freedom of religion and freedom to exercise it. The original text made no reference to clothing

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