Humiliated: Muslim woman forced to remove burkini on Nice beach in France

Published August 24th, 2016 - 08:33 GMT
There have been ten women fined so far this summer as part of the enforcement of the new French law. (Courtesy photo)
There have been ten women fined so far this summer as part of the enforcement of the new French law. (Courtesy photo)

The French ban on the burkini is threatening to turn into a farce as police officers armed with pepper spray and batons marched onto a beach today and ordered a woman to strip off. 

Four burly cops stood over the middle-aged woman, who had been quietly sunbathing on the Promenade des Anglais beach in Nice - yards from the scene of the Bastille Day lorry attack - and watched her take off a Muslim-style garment which protected her modesty. 

It is thought the woman was given a warning about the dress code on the beach and was handed an on-the-spot fine. 

Another young Muslim mother was ordered off the beach at Cannes and fined for simply wearing a headscarf.

Three armed officers pointed a pepper spray canister in the 34-year-old's face and told her she was in breach of a new rule outlawing swimming costumes that cover the entire body

She said the 'racist' officers simply wanted to humiliate her in front of her children and other family members, even though she was not even wearing a burkini.

It was the latest in a series of incidents in the south of France and comes after video emerged of armed police waiting for Muslim women to come out of the sea at nearby Nice, and then warning them about their choice of headscarves.

And just days ago, four women were fined 38 euros for wearing their burkinis on the beach in Cannes.

Identified only as Siam, the mother is a former air-hostess from Toulouse whose family members have been French citizens for at least three generations. 'I wasn't even planning to swim, just to dip my feet,' said Siam, who was wearing leggings, a top, and a headscarf.

All of the items of clothing made Siam feel comfortable, and meant she was not exposed to the afternoon sun last Tuesday.

What she was not fully aware of, however, was that Cannes was one of a small number of towns that have banned the burkini for its alleged links to extremism.

The beachwear does not cover the face either, and is worn by non-Muslims who want protection from the sun, but critics claim it is provocative.

When asked why she was dressed 'inappropriately', Sian replied: 'I didn't know exactly what was going on, I hadn't really followed the controversy'.

Sian at first refused to undress or to leave the beach, saying: 'My children were crying as they witnessed by humiliation'. 

Mathilde Cusin, a journalist with the France 4 TV channel who witnessed the entire incident, said: 'I saw three police officers watching the beach. One of them had his finger on the trigger of his tear gas device, no doubt containing pepper.' 

Then Ms Cusin said the officers went for Siam, was wearing 'a simple hijab [a headscarf that does not cover the face] around her hair'.

People then started shouting insults at Siam, telling her she was not welcome in France, and that she should 'go home'.

Ms Cusin said: 'It was pretty violent. I had the impression of a pack going after a woman sitting on the ground, crying with her daughter.'

Siam accepted an on-the-spot fine of around nine pounds, and her details were recorded on what will amount to a criminal record. She said: 'Today we are not allowed on the beach. Tomorrow, the street? Tomorrow, we'll be forbidden from practicing our religion at all?

'I'm in the country of human rights. I see no trace of the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. I am outraged that this could happen in France.' 

David Lisnard, the right wing Republican Party mayor of Cannes who introduced the burkini ban in the first place, defended the police officers' behaviour. 

Mr Lisnard said all 'beach dress that ostentatiously shows a religious affiliation' was unwelcome at a time when France was a target for Daesh. He said any dress that might be linked with the extremist group was offensive and risked provoking people, so risking public order.

On the same day, video also emerged of armed police waiting for Muslim women to come out of the sea at nearby Nice, and then warning them about their choice of headscarves. 

Feiza Ben Mohamed, secretary general of the Federation of Muslims of the South of France, said ‘two young women were made to leave the water by the police’ even though they were ‘not wearing the burkini’.

The video, which was posted on Twitter, shows children crying and shouting as the women are spoken to by the officers. Ms Ben Mohamed has accused the French authorities of ‘shamefully mixing up terrorists with the wider Muslim community.’ She said ‘this type of row is totally counterproductive and plays into Isis's hands.

‘It's exactly what Isis want - the mayor is doing their work for them. Isis seeks to make our young people believe that they are excluded, stigmatised, and they will use such examples in their recruitment drive.'  

The incidents come after a Muslim businessman pledged to pay fines imposed on women for wearing burkinis.

A French court has upheld the 'burkini ban' – ruling that the female swimwear was liable to cause offence and to provoke people to violence.

But wealthy Rachid Nekkaz, born in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges from Algerian immigrants, has said that he will pay any penalties that Muslim women incur for wearing the outfits.

He believes that the ban is 'unfair'.

He told CNN: 'I decided to pay for all the fines of women who wear the burkini in order to guarantee their freedom of wearing these clothes, and most of all, to neutralize the application on the ground of this oppressive and unfair law.'

The banning of the burkini in France, by the Administrative Tribunal in Nice, has been challenged by two human rights groups.

They argued that the ban on a garment that does not cover the face was petty, and designed to spread hatred against a small group of mainly Muslim mothers and grandmothers.

But judges said the ban in the resort of Villeneuve-Loubet was 'necessary, appropriate and proportionate'.

They said the burkini was 'liable to offend the religious convictions or non-convictions of other users of the beach.'

Judges also ruled the clothing could be viewed as a 'provocation exacerbating tensions' within France, which is currently under a State of Emergency following a series of attacks by Islamic State.

A lorry was used by a man claimed by Isis to kill 86 people in Nice on July 14th, in an attack which took place next to the city's main beach.

It is among around 15 where the burkini is now banned, and mayors across France are widening the measure every day.

But critics point out that 30 Muslims died in the Nice attack, including women wearing traditional clothes, including headscarves.

They point out how the French authorities are meant to support free expression, including the right to offend and provoke, and say that the burkini ban is utterly hypocritical.

Lawyers for the Human Rights League (LDH), and the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) - who challenged the ban in Nice - said they would now appeal to the Council of State, France's highest administrative court.

Around ten women have so far been criminalised for wearing burkinis on French beaches this summer.

All were reprimanded by police officers in the Riviera resort of Cannes, and forced to leave the sand.

Four were fined the equivalent of £32, while all received 'warnings' that will now technically form part of their criminal records. 

By Peter Allen, Ted Thornhill and Chris Summers


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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