x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Couple takes France to court over ban on veil

Pair seek Dh60,000 in damages, saying they have had to leave their country of nationality, because the ban on full-face coverings, including the niqab and the burqa, 'restricts their freedom of choice, and that of their daughters.'

LONDON // A French Muslim couple living in Britain are to challenge France's ban on full-face coverings at the European Court of Human Rights, their lawyer said yesterday.

The couple lodged an application at the Strasbourg court to take on the French government over the ban on wearing Islamic veils, which they argue is "unnecessary, disproportionate and unlawful".

They claim it restricts their right to free movement across the EU, according to documents sent to the court. The wife is seeking £10,000 (Dh60,000) in damages for the alleged rights breach.

The couple live in central England with their two children. They have chosen to remain anonymous, because of "considerable hostility" in Britain and France to Muslim women wearing the full veil in public.

The lawyer, Robina Shah, in Birmingham, England, said: "The case clearly is of importance to my clients. As a result of the ban they have had to leave their country of nationality, as the ban restricts their freedom of choice, and that of their daughters."

In April France became the first country in Europe to apply a ban on full-face coverings, including the niqab and the burqa.

The decision triggered a political storm, with rights activists accusing the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, of targeting a vulnerable group to win back votes from the far right.

In the case, the documents sent to Strasbourg say the couple want to "reside and work in France" but the ban means "they have considerable reservations about living there on a permanent basis".

The principal applicant is the husband who "expects and instructs" his wife to wear the burqa and the niqab. But she "respects and follows" her husband's instructions of her own free will.

Her lawyers argue Muslim women in France are "not able to exercise their rights free from coercion, harassment and discrimination".

"The applicants, as French nationals exercising EU rights to free movement in the UK, have no alternative remedy other than an application to the court," the lawyers say.