[Louise-Marie Suisse, who was sentenced for biting a police officer while being arrested for wearing a niqab defiantly appeared in court at her appeal hearing with the veil on.]
By Nailah Dossa
An 18-year old French girl alleged of biting a police officer whilst being arrested for wearing a niqab stood steadfast for her beliefs when appearing in court at her appeal wearing the full face veil.
Louise-Marie Suisse was found breaching the 2011 ban introduced on the full-face veil and was stopped by two police officers near a mosque in the centre of Marseille in late July. The officers asserted to the court that she refused to cooperate when asked to produce ID and resorted to assaulting one of the two officers.
The prosecution pushed for a six-month suspended sentence however, the judge assigned to the case went further and chose to give Suisse a six-month jail sentence to be suspended after four months.
Suisse challenged the French Government in her original hearing in 2012 when she turned up in a niqab although she left her face uncovered. France’s law against face veils which bans the covering of a person’s face in public materialised in April 2011 and has caused outrage for many Muslims as it is taken by most as a prejudice against their beliefs.
Violations against the ban are punishable with a fine of up to 150 euros or mandatory citizenship training with the police having up to four hours to consider whether an offender should be fined. The ban includes all garments which cover the eyes, although scarves, hats, and sunglasses are excluded.
Muslims are however, able to put on the veil in the privacy of their own homes, hotel rooms, mosques and even a car, as long as they are not driving.
French women who violate the ban face lesser sentences than men who force their wives and daughters to wear burqas. The women face fines and civic duty guidance whereas the men can face up to a year in prison and fines of up to £25,000.
Earlier this year, a Frenchman, who ripped a Muslim woman’s niqab off was given a 5 month suspended prison sentence. The excuse for the attack by the 30-year-old, who remains unidentified for legal reasons, was that he was merely trying to ‘enforce’ his country’s laws.
It was however clear that the act was a form of prejudice against the woman’s religion and yet he faced a punishment that was considerably less harsh than the one given to Suisse.
The Nantes criminal court said: “Ordinary citizens are not entitled to take the law into their own hands.”
The man affirmed that he was a firm believer in the law brought in by the Government of former President, Nicolas Sarkozy; who described Muslim face coverings as an affront to the principles of the French Republic, saying that they could be used by both shoplifters and terrorists to hide their own identities. The judge labeled the man, who had originally given a false identity to the police, as acting like a ‘vigilante’ due to personal prejudice.
Amnesty International is among the many human rights groups who have condemned the law, saying it breaches the right of freedom of expression.