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Anger over 'Ramadan' trial delay

By Hugh Schofield
BBC News, Paris

Muslims pray during Ramadan
Ramadan is a holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims

A row has broken out in France after a court postponed a trial, apparently because it was to take place during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

Critics say the decision is a breach of France's strict separation of religion and state.

The trial of seven men for armed robbery was due to start on 16 September in Rennes.

But last week the court agreed to a request from a lawyer for one of the accused to put it off until January.

In his letter asking for the delay, the lawyer noted that if the trial were to start now, it would fall in the Muslim month of Ramadan.

His client, a Muslim, would have been fasting for two weeks and thus, he said, be in no position to defend himself properly.

He would be physically weakened and too tired to follow the arguments as he should.

Knife wound

The court's agreement to postpone the trial has now triggered an outraged response from campaigning groups and politicians of both left and right, who see it as a worrying new incursion by religion into the institutions of the French state.

The government's Minister for Urban Affairs, Fadela Amara, herself a Muslim, said it was a "knife wound" in the principle of a secular republic, and she compared it to another controversial decision earlier this year, in which a judge agreed to annul a marriage between two Muslims because the wife had lied about her virginity.

The far right leader, Jean-Marie le Pen, for his part, said the French justice system had reached a new low.

The row has forced the Rennes prosecutor to issue a denial that Ramadan was the reason for the postponement.

But this has not convinced lawyers, who note that all the other reasons previously put forward as arguments for a delay had already been declared inadmissible.


SEE ALSO
In pictures: Ramadan Kareem
01 Sep 08 |  In Pictures
The trials of Ramadan fasting
12 Sep 07 |  Magazine


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