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European rights court rules in favor of French burqa ban

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
[File photo] Women wearing Islamic niqab veils stand outside the French Embassy in protest on April 11, 2011 in London, England.
[File photo] Women wearing Islamic niqab veils stand outside the French Embassy in protest on April 11, 2011 in London, England.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The court says the law doesn't violate the European Convention on Human Rights
  • A young French woman brought the case to the court
  • She says the ban infringes on her ability to live according to her faith and convictions
  • The French law went into effect in April 2011

(CNN) -- The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday rejected a claim by a young Muslim woman that France's ban on the wearing of burqas and niqabs in public violates her rights.

The French law banning the burqa, a full-body covering that includes a mesh over the face, and the niqab, a full-face veil with an opening for the eyes, went into effect in April 2011.

It has pitted religious freedom advocates against those who say the Islamic veil is demeaning to women and inconsistent with France's rigorously enforced secularism.

2011: Burqa ban stirs debate
2011: Fighting France's 'burqa ban'

A 24-year-old French woman brought the case to Europe's top rights court in Strasbourg because she says the ban infringes on her ability to live according to her religious faith, culture and personal convictions.

But the court said Tuesday that it found that the French law doesn't breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

Muslim woman's case

The woman, a devout Muslim whose name has not been disclosed, had tried to draw on several articles of the convention to make her case.

Those articles cover the right to respect for private and family life; the right to respect for freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and the prohibition of discrimination.

The woman said no member of her family has put pressure on her to wear the burqa and niqab. She wears them in public and private, but not all the time, she said.

The European Court of Human Rights started hearing the case in November.

Debate in France

The French Constitutional Council said in 2010 that the law does not impose disproportionate punishments or prevent the free exercise of religion in a place of worship, finding therefore that "the law conforms to the Constitution."

But critics argue the government has no business telling people what clothes to wear or how to practice their religion.

The law drew criticism from some human rights and religious organizations and some Muslims as discriminatory. France has Western Europe's largest Muslim population.

The French law imposes a fine of 150 euros (about $205) for wearing the items. The person breaking the law can be asked to carry out public service duty as part of the punishment or as an alternative to the fine.

When the legislation came into effect, some analysts said it was largely born out of internal French politics, with former President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right party seeking to fend off a challenge from a more hard-line right wing.

CNN's Claudia Rebaza contributed to this report.

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