Europe

France imposes first niqab fines

Generic image of woman wearing a niqab Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Several European countries have banned - or intend to ban - the wearing of the niqab in public

Two French Muslim women who continue to wear the full-face veil in defiance of a new law banning it in France have been issued fines by a court.

Hind Ahmas and Najate Nait Ali were arrested wearing the niqab in public outside Meaux town hall, eastern Paris, soon after the law came in in May.

The women say they will appeal against their punishment all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

Meanwhile another woman said she would stand for president in her niqab.

Thursday's sentencing in Meaux was closely followed not just in France but right across Europe, says the BBC's Christian Fraser in Paris.

Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland all have - or are planning - similar legislation.

Assault claims

Divorced mother Hind Ahmas, 32, a mother-of-three, was fined 120 euros (£104) by the court.

Before the hearing she said she was hoping a fine would be imposed, to enable her to challenge it.

"Without a condemnation I can't move forward. There has to be this sanction with a fine so that I can take this to the European Court of Human Rights. It's imperative that there's a sanction," she said.

Najate Nait Ali was fined 80 euros.

They become the first of 91 women stopped by French police to be handed a fine.

Ahmas's parents were not strict Muslims. She told the BBC she put on the niqab for the first time six years ago as an educated single woman.

She claims she once wore mini-skirts and liked to party before she rediscovered her faith.

Some Muslim groups say since the ban was introduced in April a number of women have been assaulted both verbally and physically by members of the public.

Hind Ahmas told the BBC she had been punched in the face.

These two women would most likely have to exhaust the appeals process in France - which can take considerable time - before they can hope to test the legislation in the European court in Strasbourg, our correspondent says.

Another high-profile niqab-wearer, Kenza Drider, has said she will stand for president in the 2012 election.

She has become a champion for several hundred women in France who insist wearing the niqab is a personal choice and a right enshrined by European law.

She said: "The reality is, there is a lot of unemployment in France and a lot of problems in France so let's not focus on what I wear, let's deal with the real problems. So my candidacy is really being done for that. To say don't stop at what I'm wearing, but go much deeper."

Muslim headscarves

The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in myriad styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.
The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.
The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf.
The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.
The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear.
The chador, worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.
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