Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 18:28 UK

French police fine Muslim driver for wearing veil

Muslim woman talks to reporters in Nantes
The woman, who has not been named, has spoken to French media

A French Muslim woman has been fined for wearing a full-face veil while driving a car.

Police in the western city of Nantes said the veil - which showed only her eyes - restricted her vision and could have caused an accident.

The woman's lawyer says they will appeal against the decision, which he described as a breach of human rights.

The incident follows months of intense debate in France about whether the veils should be banned.

Earlier this week, President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered parliament to debate a law banning women from wearing full-face Islamic veils in public.

'Safety risk'

After stopping the 31-year-old woman - who has not been named - police asked her to raise her veil to confirm her identity, which she did.

Currently no law forbids the wearing of the niqab
Lawyer Jean-Michel Pollono

They then fined her 22 euros ($29; £19), saying her clothing posed a "safety risk".

"This fine is not justified on road safety grounds and constitutes a breach of human and women's rights," her lawyer, Jean-Michel Pollono, told AFP news agency.

He said the woman's field of vision was not obstructed and added that a veil was no different from a motorcycle helmet in terms of hindrance to vision.

He said he had formally complained to the state prosecutor.

"The ball is clearly in the authorities' court," he said. "Currently no law forbids the wearing of the niqab."


The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in a myriad of styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf. The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.
The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf. The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.
The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear. The chador, worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.
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The incident happened earlier this month, Mr Pollono said.

The woman, who is a French citizen, told French media that her field of vision had been sufficient.

The BBC's David Chazan, in Paris, says that although the fine is small, the case has taken on huge symbolic importance.

President Sarkozy said last year that full-face veils oppressed women and were not welcome in France.

Plans to ban them by law have provoked intense debate about religious freedom in a secular society, as well as the position of Muslims in France.

France has Europe's largest Muslim minority population, estimated at about five million. The French interior ministry estimates that only about 1,900 women wear full veils in the country.

There are several types of headscarves and veils for Muslim women - those that cover the face being the niqab and the burka. In France, the niqab is the version most commonly worn.

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