Photos of woman 'forced to strip' add fuel to burkini debate

The Australian creator of the burkini sees an increase in sales and popularity of the full body swimsuit since the temporary ban on certain beaches in France.
A photo showing a woman undressing in front of four police officers on the beach at the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, near the site where a truck attack took place last month. The photo went viral and sparked a furore on Twitter, with many criticisi
A photo showing a woman undressing in front of four police officers on the beach at the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, near the site where a truck attack took place last month. The photo went viral and sparked a furore on Twitter, with many criticising the burkini ban.PHOTO: ABDUL AZIM/TWITTER

NICE • An angry debate over a ban on burkinis in France was further stoked yesterday as images of a veiled woman surrounded by police on a beach in Nice went viral.

The series of photos published by British media showed a woman dressed in leggings, a tunic and headscarf lying on a beach surrounded by four police officers.

At one point, she removes her tunic - it is unclear if she was ordered to do so or did so of her own accord - while a policeman appears to write out a fine. She was wearing a sleeveless top under the tunic.

The photos, whose source is not clear, caused a furore on Twitter, with many assuming the woman had been forced to undress by the police. "Question of the day: How many armed policemen does it take to force a woman to strip in public?" Mr Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director of Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.

A comment by activist Sihame Assbague, which was retweeted over 7,000 times, said the scene has made France 'the laughing stock of the world'.

A comment by activist Sihame Assbague, which was retweeted more than 7,000 times, said the scene has made France "the laughing stock of the world".

Nice is one of about 15 French towns which have banned wearing the burkini - a full-body Islamic swimsuit which covers the head - on beaches, with the authorities declaring that it contravenes French secular values and threatens public order.

But the vague wording of the ban, which refers to beachwear that conspicuously demonstrates a person's religion, has created confusion.

Beachgoers have been left to puzzle over whether it refers solely to head-to-toe swimwear which some non-Muslims also wear for protection from the sun, or to being fully clothed and having one's head covered on the seashore.

A mother of two said on Tuesday that she had been fined on a beach in Cannes for wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf. "I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming," said the 34-year-old.

France's highest administrative court, the State Council, will today examine a request by the Human Rights League to scrap the ban.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Photos of woman 'forced to strip' add fuel to burkini debate'. Print Edition | Subscribe