Burkini ban overturned but French resorts defiant

Protesters against the Burkini ban outside the French embassy in London.
Protesters against the Burkini ban outside the French embassy in London.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Despite top court's ruling, coastal towns vow to keep fining women in full-body swimsuits

MARSEILLE • French resorts were defiant after a ban on the burkini in a Riviera town was overturned by a court, vowing to keep the restrictions in place and continue imposing fines on women who wear the full-body swimsuit.

In a judgment expected to lead to bans being overturned in around 30 coastal towns, the State Council, France's highest administrative court, ruled on Friday that the measure was a "serious and clearly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms". The suspension of the ban on the Islamic swimsuit, which has triggered a fierce debate in France and sparked critical headlines around the world, was welcomed by the United Nations.

But the ruling, which applied only to the ban imposed by Villeneuve-Loubet, was quickly dismissed by several other towns, including Nice, which vowed to keep the restrictions in place and continue imposing fines on women who wear the full-body swimsuit.

In its decision, the court said the local authorities could introduce measures restricting individual freedoms only if wearing the swimsuit on beaches represented a "proven risk" to public order.

The judges said there was no such risk in the case before the court concerning Villeneuve-Loubet, a resort between Nice and Cannes.

Police action to fine Muslim women for wearing burkinis on beaches in several towns, including in the tourist resorts of Nice and Cannes, has triggered a fierce debate about women's rights and the French state's strictly guarded secularism.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said: "From now on, it is up to everyone to take responsibility for cooling off, which is the only way to avoid public order disturbances."

In recent weeks, around 30 French municipalities decided to ban access to public beaches to "anyone not wearing proper attire, which is respectful of good morality and the principle of secularism, and not respectful of the rules of hygiene and bathing security".

Nice town hall said it would "continue to fine" women wearing the burkini.

The far-right mayor of Frejus, Mr David Rachline, insisted there was "no legal procedure" against his ruling.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has backed the mayors, saying that the State Council's ruling "does not end the debate which has been opened".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Burkini ban overturned but French resorts defiant'. Print Edition | Subscribe