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France parliamentary bill to impose fines for wearing burqas

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Women who wear a full Islamic burqa could be punished with a heavy fine under a new law proposed in France. Politicians are divided over the plan, with opponents arguing that the legislation is draconian.

Muslim women face a fine of up to 750 euros ($1,080) for wearing burqas and niqabs, which cover the body and face, under a draft bill to be presented to the French parliament.

The measure would prohibit women from wearing such coverings in public places and on the streets, although there would be exceptions for public events and carnivals.

Men who force their wives and daughters to wear the garments may face an even heavier fine.

The law has been proposed by Jean-Francois Cope, leader of the governing conservative UMP party in France's lower parliamentary chamber.

Proposals will be put forward in the next two weeks and are to be debated in parliament after regional elections in March.

Defense of women's rights

Cope, who hopes to succeed Sarkozy as a right-wing presidential contender in 2017, said the banning of the burqa was necessary to defend women's rights.

"We can measure the modernity of a society by the way it treats and respects women," said Cope in an interview with France's Le Figaro magazine.

Cope said that the law would send a "clear message" that France would not allow women to fully cover themselves.

Sarkozy himself has said that the burqa is not welcome in France and that he is not opposed to the legislation.

Socialists "not in favor"

The opposition Socialist Party opposes the wearing of burqas, but said that it is not in favor of a legal ban which it considers excessive.

"The burka is a prison for women and has no place in the French Republic but an ad hoc law would not have the anticipated effect," party spokesman Benoit Hamon told RTL radio.

"If tomorrow the burqa is not allowed in public places, how would the police act to convince a woman to abandon her burqa? Would they force her to take it off?" asked Hamon.

Only 1,900 women wear full body coverings in France, according to the interior ministry, with more than half living in the Paris region. In 2004, France banned headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious symbols in state schools.

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