French law could see fines for burqas
08.01.10 @ 09:20
The author of a new anti-burqa law in France has told the press he will propose €750 fines for women wearing the head-to-toe covering.
Jean-Francois Cope, the leader of France's ruling centre-right UMP party, gave advance notice of the bill in an interview with Le Figaro magazine out on Thursday (7 January).
He said the legislation "would prohibit the covering of the face in public places and on the streets, with the exception of special cultural events or carnivals" meaning that "wearing a burqa would qualify for a fine, probably of the fourth class, that is to say €750."
Any person forcing a woman to wear the garment would face a "worse fine."
Mr Cope defended the proposals on grounds of national security and women's rights. "We can measure the modernity of a society by the way it treats and respects women," he told Le Figaro.
The bill is to be formally introduced in the next 15 days but will not be debated by the house until after regional elections in March. If it goes through, implementation will be phased in gradually.
The French interior ministry estimates that just 1,900 women in France wear a burqa in a country home to some 5 million Muslims.
Mr Cope's law has already come in for criticism from the left.
"The burqa is a prison for women and has no place in the French Republic. But an ad-hoc law would not have the anticipated effect," Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said on Wednesday.
Some figures on the right have also come out against the scheme, with Xavier Bertrand, the secretary general of the UMP, telling French radio on Thursday that he favours a non-binding resolution condemning the garment instead.
President Nicolas Sarkozy last June said the burqa is "not welcome" in France but has not spoken about the law as such.
France in 2004 already banned the wearing of "conspicuous" religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves, by pupils in state schools and by public sector workers.