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France: Muslim woman defends right to wear burqa at European Court of Human Rights PDF Print E-mail

images/stories/StrasbourgConsort_Banner.png  1 February 2012

images/stories/StrasbourgConsortSASVsFr.jpg S.A.S. v. France (no. 43835/11) – Communicated 1 February 2012. The applicant is a French national, a practicing Muslim, who declares that she wears the burqa in order to comply with her faith, her culture, and her personal convictions. For her it is a matter of covering her entire body, including a fine veil covering her face as well the niqab, a veil covering the face with the exception of the eyes. She emphasizes that neither her husband nor any other member of her family puts any pressure upon her to dress in this fashion.

The applicant wears the niqab in private as well as in public, but in a systematic way. For example, she does not wear it when consulting a doctor, or when she meets friends in a public place, or seeks to make acquaintances. She therefore agrees not to wear the niqab in public all the time, but she wishes to be able to make the choice, under certain appropriate spiritual conditions, as, for example, for religious events during Ramadan. Her goal is not to create a nuisance for others, but to be able to be in accord with her own religious feelings and beliefs.

The applicant agrees that she should remove the face covering for security checks, at a bank, or when taking a plane. However, under French law she is forbidden to cover her face in public at all.

The applicant therefore complains that when she wears the veil in public she could be subject, under law, to penalties as well as to harassment and discrimination, constituting degrading treatment in violation of ECHR Article 3. She furthermore invokes Article 8 of the Convention, violation of her right to respect for her private life. Invoking Articles 9, 10, and 11 she complains of violation of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of association or assembly. Finally, invoking Article 14, she complains that the legal prohibition of wearing a face covering in public generates discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, and ethnic origin, to the detriment of women, such as herself, who wear the total veil.