PARIS – France’s highest administrative court overturned on Friday, August 26, a controversial ban on burkini swimsuit, following a series of bans in French seaside towns which were criticized for stigmatizing France’s Muslim minority.
“By overturning a discriminatory ban that is fuelled by and is fuelling prejudice and intolerance, today’s decision has drawn an important line in the sand,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe director, in a statement cited by Voice of America.
“French authorities must now drop the pretence that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women. Rather, invasive and discriminatory measures such as these restrict women’s choices and are an assault on their freedoms of expression, religion and right to non-discrimination.”
The Council of State’s ruling relates specifically to the southeastern town of Villeneuve-Loubet.
Yet, the decision is expected to set a legal precedent for the approximately 30 seaside towns that have issued similar bans, the Associated Press reported.
A recent controversy on burkini has erupted in the wake of the French authorities’ decision to ban the swimsuit in Cannes, Corsica and Le Touquet.
The decision was criticized by many commentators who see burkini as something that grants so many women access to sports and experiences they would have otherwise avoided because of health, body or religious concerns.
Anger has maximized after a series of photos showed four police officers armed with handguns, batons and pepper spray standing around the woman who was lying on the beach wearing a blue headscarf and matching top.
Filing the lawsuit before court, Lawyer Patrice Spinosi, of the Human Rights League, told reporters in Paris that other mayors must adhere to the ruling.
He added that women who have been fined for wearing burkinis can challenge the penalties.
France has been embroiled in a debate over Islamic dress in public places for years.
A permanent, national ban on wearing hijab in schools and government-run workplaces has been in effect since 2004.
It was extended in 2011 to include the outlawing of wearing full-face veils such as the burqa and niqab in public places.
“There could be no better recruiting sergeants for the Islamic State than the mayors who are enforcing the burkini bans on the beaches of the French Riviera,” said Ebrahim Moosa, author of the book Islam and the Modern World.
“All right-thinking people the world over are outraged by such high-handed conduct,” he added.
“Muslims have been victims of terrorism and have valiantly helped to combat terrorism in Europe. This ban is nothing short of a thinly veiled expression of Islamophobia,” said Moosa, an Islamic studies professor at the University of Notre Dame.