A French court on Wednesday convicted Cassandra Belin for wearing a burqa [JURIST news archive] in violation of the controversial law [materials, in French] banning women from wearing full-face veils in public, rejecting her bid to have the ban declared unconstitutional. Belin was sentenced [AFP report] to one month in prison for insulting and threatening three police officers at the time of her arrest and fined €150 (USD $200) for wearing the veil. Her lawyers had requested a ruling on the constitutionality of the ban before sentencing, which was rejected on the grounds that the Constitutional Council had previously upheld the law. Opponents of the law argue that it is discriminatory and unconstitutional, while proponents of the law argue that it is necessary because the number of France's Muslims are changing the nature of the country.
Under the French ban, people caught wearing facial coverings in public can be fined €150 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 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. Despite condemnation from human rights groups, other jurisdictions, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, have also passed or considered similar legislation [JURIST reports]. The burqa ban in France officially took effect [JURIST reports] on April 11, 2011 after the French National Assembly [official website] approved [JURIST report] the bill on July 13, 2010. In June of that year, a French Muslim couple living in the UK filed a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] over the ban. Legal commentators have argued [JURIST op-ed] that burqa bans are political necessities, rather than legal ones, and therefore legal rationale and political justification are weak.