The Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative court, canceled on Friday a ban on full-body burkini swimsuits that has led to criticism and protests in the country and around the world. The French Council of State ruled that mayors do not have the right to ban the garments mostly used by Muslim women.
The decision affects fifteen French towns that had banned the swimsuit designed to cover the whole female body except for the face, hands, and feet. The court declared in a statement the decree in Villeneuve-Loubet “seriously, and clearly illegally, breached the fundamental freedoms to come and go, the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom,” as Reuters reported.
The ruling followed a request from the League of Human Rights to overturn the burkini ban particularly in the southern town of Villeneuve-Loubet, near Niece, on the grounds that such a measure was illegal and only served to promote Islamophobia. While human rights activists claim the ban went against civil liberties, officials say it was a response to growing terror fears.
The mayor of Cannes, the city on the French Riviera known worldwide for its annual film festival, had implemented the temporary ban running from July 28 until August 31. Cannes mayor’s office said hose breaking the law would face fines of €38 ($42).
“A beach outfit showing in an ostentatious manner a religious affiliation, given that France and religious places are currently the targets of terrorist acts, has the nature of creating risks of troubles of public order (mobs, conflicts, etc.) that are necessary to be prevented,” said the law, as reported by CNN.
The burkini ban came into effect nearly a month after a terror attack in Nice. A man killed 84 people as he drove a heavy truck through a Bastille Day crowd on the main beach promenade, according to CNN. A separate attack occurred just over a week later in a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray located in northern France, where priest Jacques Hamel was stabbed to death.
Police officers force woman to remove some of her clothing at a Nice beach
Photos of three armed police officers ordering a woman on a burkini to remove part of her clothing sparked outrage on social media last Wednesday. As part of the controversial ban, the officers armed with guns and batons stood around the woman, who was wearing a blue headscarf and a matching top. She was forced to take off her full-sleeved tunic and then an officer is seen on the images crouching beside her apparently writing a note or fine.
Deputy Mayor Christian Estrosi condemned the photos and claimed they put the three officers in danger. Authorities in Nice said the police officers were simply doing what they had to do.
Jenny Dawkins, a Church of England priest, joined a protest in London, where demonstrators had a “Wear what you want beach party” on Thursday outside the French Embassy. They created a makeshift beach for the occasion. Dawkins told CNN she felt motivated to join the creative protest after seeing a photo of the incident on the Nice beach.
“I think it’s a frightening image,” Dawkins told CNN. “I find it quite chilling to see an image of a woman surrounded by men with guns being told to take her clothes off,” he added.
France became the first country in Europe to ban wearing in public the burqa in April 2011. The niqab, a full-face veil that only reveals the eyes was also included in the ban and women who decided not to follow the rule had to face fines of 150 euros (about $205) or public service duties. A few years later, a 24-year-old woman claimed the law infringed on her religious freedom and brought the case to court. The European Convention on Human Rights upheld the law in 2014.