French mother, 32, set to become first woman to be jailed for wearing banned Islamic veil
Facing jail: Hind Ahmas, left, could be sentenced to two years in prison for wearing a banned Islamic head covering in France
A 32-year-old mother from France is set to become the first woman ever to be sent to prison for wearing an Islamic veil.
Hind Ahmas refuses to accept the legitimacy of a Paris court which has ordered her to spend 15 days learning her civic duties.
She was sentenced by magistrates in Meaux, a Paris suburb, yesterday – after being arrested wearing an outlawed veil outside the Elysee Palace in the French capital on April 11.
That was shortly after Nicolas Sarkozy’s government introduced a ban on all forms of Islamic head coverings, including the niqab and the burka.
Ahmas was not allowed into the hearing at Meaux Criminal Court because she refused to remove her face covering.
But prosecutors made it clear to her lawyer, Gilles Devers, that Ahmas now faces two years in prison and a £27,000 fine.
‘There is no possibility of me removing the veil,’ Ahmas said.
‘I’m not taking it off. The judge needs citizenship lessons, not me.’
Ahmas, who has already refused to pay a fine of around £100 for wearing a veil on another occasion, intends to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights.
She has launched a pressure group, Do Not Touch My Constitution, along with Kenza Drider, another veil wearer who wants to run for president in the Spring.
New law: Ahmas, 32, pictured with would-be presidential candidate Kenza Drider, is taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights
If Ahmas does become the first woman in the world to go to prison for wearing a veil, then it will be seen as a huge propaganda coup for Islamic-rights campaigners.
Mr Sarkozy said the ban on head coverings was not aimed at persecuting Muslims, but merely to make France a more tolerant, inclusive society.
When it was introduced, he said the ban was aimed at stopping criminals – from terrorists to shoplifters – disguising their faces from security staff and CCTV.
But the sight of a young mother being led away to the cells merely because she refuses to take off her veil will cause outrage around the world.
Mr Devers said the veil ban was ‘unconstitutional’, while senior police officers have told judges that it is unenforceable without persecuting women.
France became the first country in Europe to outlaw the veil, while similar legislation has since been passed in Belgium and Holland.
One has been mooted in Britain by a number of politicians, including Conservative backbenchers, but there are no immediate plans to introduce one.
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ANUS ORIENTATION IS LEGAL, BUT VEIL ORIENTATION SHOULD BE MADE ILLEGAL!
A ban on Muslim girls and young women wearing veils in public places should be considered by the Government, according to a Lib Dem minister.
Party leader Nick Clegg told Sky News he did not think the full veil was appropriate for airport security or the classroom, but said he strongly felt people in Britain should not be told how to dress.
"My own opinion is that I strongly believe we should not be issuing edicts about what people can and can't wear in this country," the Deputy Prime Minister said.
Mr Browne's intervention came after a row erupted over the decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College to drop a ban on the wearing of full-face veils amid public protests.
The minister said he was "instinctively uneasy" about restricting religious freedoms, but said there may be a case to act to protect girls who were too young to decide for themselves whether they wished to wear the veil or not.
"I think this is a good topic for national debate. People of liberal instincts will have competing notions of how to protect and promote freedom of choice," he told The Daily Telegraph.
"I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice. That would apply to Christian minorities in the Middle East just as much as religious minorities here in Britain.
"But there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married.
"We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression."
It is thought that Mr Browne, who is attending his party's annual conference in Glasgow, is the first senior Lib Dem to voice such concerns in public.
However there are signs that his views are shared by a number of Conservative MPs who were dismayed at the way the Birmingham Metropolitan College case was handled.
The college had originally banned niqabs and burkas from its campuses eight years ago on the grounds that students should be easily identifiable at all times.
But when a 17-year-old prospective student complained to her local newspaper that she was being discriminated against, a campaign sprang up against the ban, attracting 8,000 signatures to an online petition in two days.
After the college's decision to withdraw it, Downing Street said David Cameron would support a ban in his children's schools, although the decision should rest with the head teacher.
The Prime Minister has been coming under growing pressure from his own MPs for a rethink on current Department for Education guidelines to protect schools and colleges from being "bullied".
Tory backbencher Dr Sarah Wollaston, writing in The Daily Telegraph, said the veils were "deeply offensive" and were "making women invisible", and called for the niqab to be banned in schools and colleges.
Mr Clegg, speaking at the Lib Dem party conference on Monday, said: "I think one of the great things about our country is that ... we allow people to express their identity, their faith, the communities to which they belong in the way in which they dress.
"There are some exceptions clearly. I don't for instance think it is appropriate to have the full veil through security checks at airports.
"I think there is an issue about teachers having the right to address their pupils and their students face-to-face and make face contact.
"But otherwise I really do think it is important that we protect the British principle that as long as people are law-abiding citizens going about their business in a law-abiding fashion, we shouldn't be telling people what garments of clothing they can wear."
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he was "disgusted" by Mr Browne's comments.
"This is another example of the double standards that are applied to Muslims in our country by some politicians," he said.
"Whatever one's religion, they should be free to practise it according to their own choices."