Top French court rules Burkini bans violate basic freedoms

World Today

A Tunisian woman wearing a “burkini”, a full-body swimsuit designed for Muslim women, walks in the water with a child on August 16, 2016 at Ghar El Melh beach near Bizerte, north-east of the capital Tunis. (FETHI BELAID / AFP)

France’s top administrative court overturned a ban on burkinis in a Mediterranean town, in a decision Friday that should set legal precedent regarding a swimsuit crackdown that has divided the country and provoked shock around the world.

CCTV’s Greg Navarro reports.

Burkini swimsuit inventor shocked by controversy of her design

CCTV’s reporter Greg Navarro interviewed the Australian inventor of the full-body Burkini swimsuit, Aheda Zanetti, who told us that she’s shocked by the controversy surrounding her design. Zanetti created the Burkini in 2004, wanting to design something for her niece to wear while playing sports. The Lebanese-born designer has been in demand, since her full body swimsuit called the Burkini was banned on several French beaches. Zanetti’s company Ahiida owns the trademarks to the words burqini and burkini.

The ruling by France’s Council of State Friday specifically concerns a ban on the Muslim garment in the Riviera town of Villeneuve-Loubet, but the binding decision is expected to impact all of the 30 or so French resort municipalities that have issued similar decrees.

The bans grew increasingly controversial as images circulated online of some Muslim women being ordered to remove body-concealing garments on French Riviera beaches.

Lawyers for a human rights group and a Muslim collective challenged the legality of the ban to the top court, saying the orders infringe basic freedoms and that mayors have overstepped their powers by telling women what to wear on beaches.

Elements of a burkini

Mayors had cited multiple reasons for the bans, including security after a string of Islamic extremist attacks, risk to public order, and France’s strict rules on secularism in public life.

The Council of State ruled that, “The emotion and concerns arising from the terrorist attacks, notably the one perpetrated in Nice on July 14, cannot suffice to justify in law the contested prohibition measure.”

It ruled that the mayor of Villeuneuve-Loubet overstepped his powers by enacting measures that are not justified by “proven risks of disruptions to public order nor, moreover, on reasons of hygiene or decency.”

“The contested decree has thus brought a serious and manifestly illegal infringement on basic freedoms such as freedom to come and go, freedom of conscience and personal freedom,” the ruling reads.

Lawyer Patrice Spinosi, representing the Human Rights League, told reporters that the ruling sets a legal precedent for those women who have already received fines can protest them based on Friday’s decision.

“It is a decision that is meant to set legal precedent,” he said. “Today all the ordinances taken should conform to the decision of the Council of State. Logically the mayors should withdraw these ordinances. If not legal actions could be taken” against those towns.

Amnesty International’s Europe Director John Dalhuisen, said in a statement Friday that the ruling has “drawn an important line in the sand.”

“Invasive and discriminatory measures such as these restrict women’s choices and are an assault on their freedoms,” Dalhuisen said. “The enforcement of these bans leads to abuses and the degrading treatment of Muslim women and girls.”

But the mayor of the Corsican town of Sisco said he wouldn’t lift the ban he imposed after an Aug. 13 clash on a beach.

“Here the tension is very, very, very high and I won’t withdraw it,” Ange-Pierre Vivoni said on BFM-TV.

He said he doesn’t know whether a woman was actually wearing a burkini the day a clash occurred that set a group of Corsican sunbathers of North African origin against villagers from Sisco. It took days to untangle the events leading to the violence that many immediately assumed was over a burkini sighting.

The bans have become a symbol of tensions around the place of Islam in secular France.

Many officials —including Prime Minister Manuel Valls — have argued that burkinis oppress women. But critics say the bans were feeding a racist political agenda as campaigning for next year’s French presidential elections were kicking off.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen says the overturning of a ban on burkinis in a French Mediterranean town is “not surprising” but the battle is not over.

The right-wing leader said that lawmakers must vote “as quickly as possible” on an extension of the 2004 law that banned Muslim headscarves and other ostentatious religious symbols in classrooms to include all public spaces.

Le Pen, who is running for president in the 2017 race, wrote in a statement that: “The burkini would obviously be part of it.”

Former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced this week he’s seeking the conservative nomination for the race, said at a rally Thursday night in southern France that he wants a law banning the burkini “on the entire territory of the Republic.”

Story by the Associated Press

Zainab Chaudry on the debate over the burqini and how Muslims see the swim suit clothing

For more about the debate over the burqini and how Muslims see the swim suit, CCTV America’s Elaine Reyes interviewed Zainab Chaudry, Maryland Outreach Manager for the Council on American Islamic Relations.