A French Muslim couple living in the UK filed a challenge Thursday in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] over a French ban [materials, in French] on full face coverings, while a Spanish court upheld a city ban on veils in municipal buildings for identification and security purposes. A French husband and wife, who have chosen to remain anonymous, argue that the ban restricts their right to free movement [AFP report] across the EU. They are seeking £ 10,000 (USD $16,400) for the claimed human rights breach, The couple is being represented by Robina Shah of the Immigration Advisory Service in Birmingham [advocacy website] and claim they were forced to leave France because of the ban. The controversial French law bans the wearing of full Muslim veils, including burqas, nigabs and other facial coverings in public. Also on Thursday, a Spanish court overturned a lower court ruling and upheld a ban on the Muslim face coverings [AP report] for identification and security purposes. The city of Lleida, in Catalonia, was the first Spanish city to impose such a ban, but only about 3 percent of its population is Muslim.
Under the French ban, people caught wearing facial coverings in public can be fined € 150 (USD $215) and/or ordered to take a citizenship class. In addition, anyone convicted of forcing a someone else to cover their face may be fined up to 30,000 euro and jailed for one year [AFP report, in French], and the penalties double if the incident involves a minor. The ban affects citizens, residents and tourists alike, and extends to all public places [Le Figaro backgrounder, in French], including airports, hospitals, government offices and even places of worship that are open to the public. In October, the French Constitutional Council ruled that the ban conforms with the Constitution [JURIST report]. The bill was approved by the National Assembly in July and by the Senate [JURIST reports] in September. Legislation banning the use of Islamic burqas has been a point of contention recently in many European countries. In October, Dutch politician Geert Wilders [personal website, in Dutch] said that the Netherlands will ban the burqa [JURIST report] as part of the government's plan to form a minority coalition. In August, Austria's conservative Freedom Party [official website, in German] called for a special vote [JURIST report] on whether to ban face veils and the construction of minarets, two of the most visible symbols of the Islamic faith. In July, Spain's lower house of parliament rejected a proposal [JURIST report] to ban the burqa and other full face veils by a vote of 183 to 162 with two abstaining.