Burkini ban is illegal, France’s highest court rules – prompting Right-wing backlash and calls from some towns to ignore it
The State Council upheld a challenge by human rights groups which argued that the ban in the Riviera resort of Villeneuve-sur-Loubet infringed personal freedoms in a ruling that is likely to set a legal precedent for 29 other towns that have banned the garment.
The ban “constituted a serious and manifestly illegal infringement of fundamental liberties, ” the State Council said in its judgement.
Patrice Spinosi, a lawyer for the Human Rights League, said the decision to “suspend” the ban would also apply to the other 29 French towns.
The mayor of Sisco, in Corsica, vowed to defy the State Council’s ruling and maintain the ban in his town.
“This judgement does not affect us here because we had a fight over it (the burkini),” said Ange-Pierre Vivoni, referring to a brawl on a beach in Sisco on August 13 which preceded the ban.
The ruling will anger the centre-Right opposition and some members of the Socialist government.
The controversial bans on the full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women divided France and provoked criticism in Britain and other countries.
The debate was further inflamed after photographs circulated online showed police apparently ordering a woman on a beach in Nice to remove her long-sleeved tunic.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the former conservative president, demanded a nationwide burkini ban as he placed Islam, immigration and security at the heart of his campaign to win back power from the Socialists in elections next year.
Opponents of the bans said they fuelled a racist political agenda as the election campaign kicks off.
However, with France on edge after a series of Islamist attacks, a poll suggested that two-thirds of French people support burkini bans.
Mayors of 30 towns that have prohibited the swimsuit justified the bans on the grounds of public order and safety after the attacks.
Many politicians argued that the burkini could not be tolerated under France’s secular constitution because it was a symbol of the oppression of women.
Religion and public life are strictly separated in France, which was the first European country to ban the Islamic full-face veil in 2010.
Only two of the 30 towns where the burkini is banned have fined women for wearing it. Nice has fined 24 women and Cannes six. The 30 women were ordered to pay €38 (£32.50) each.
The Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls, backed the bans, describing the burkini as a symbol of the “enslavement of women”, but stopped short of calling for a national ban.