5th Dec 2021

Rights watchdog removes video of women in hijab

  • The Council of Europe has removed this tweet it posted, reportedly after a backlash from a French government minister (Photo: Council of Europe)
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The Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog the Council of Europe has removed a tweet of a video supporting women's rights to wear the hijab.

The video was as part of a wider campaign, co-financed by the European Commission, to combat hate speech against Jewish and Muslim communities and was being led by the Council of Europe's inclusion and anti-discrimination branch.

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The European Commission on Wednesday (3 November) said it had no input into the campaign, despite having an EU logo on the video and having helped finance it from a larger €340,000 grant.

The video was reportedly taken down on the demand of the French government, triggering condemnation by rights groups like Amnesty International.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson at the Council of Europe said the tweets "do not represent the views of the Council of Europe or its secretary general."

"We have taken down these tweet messages while we reflect on a better presentation of this project," she said, noting they reflected statements made by individual participants in one of the project workshops.

Pressed on whether the video was removed following French government pressure, she did not respond.

But France's secretary of state for youth Sarah El Haïry earlier this week said the video had been pulled due to its intervention, claiming it had shocked her.

"France made its very strong disapproval of the campaign clear, which is why it was pulled today," she told French media outlet LCI.

The video juxtaposed images of young women wearing the hijab interspersed with phrases like "beauty is in diversity, as freedom is in the hijab."

It comes amid a gathering momentum of support for a possible far-right wing French presidential contender, who has railed against and targeted minorities and immigrants. An estimated 5 million people of Islamic faith live in France.

France under the leadership of president Emmanuel Macron has also led what many critics perceived to be an anti-Islam campaign, under the guise of defending its secular traditions.

Among other measures, it last year dissolved a leading anti-discrimination group known as the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF).

That decision was upheld by a top court in September.

Human Rights Watch, an NGO, says CCIF had played a key role in providing legal support to people facing anti-Muslim discrimination. It says the judgment will likely have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and association in France and elsewhere in Europe.

France had also adopted a so-called anti-separatism law it says was designed to crack down on extremists.

But critics say the law risks leading to further discrimination, noting French authorities have employed vague notions of "radical Islam."

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