French anti-burqa law to jail offenders

Muslim Veil

France will jail and impose huge fines on anyone who forces a Muslim woman to wear a full-face veil, according to a leaked version of a proposed law revealed on Friday.

While women will face only a 150 euro penalty if they choose to don a burqa or a niqab, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to slap one-year prison terms and USD 20,000 fines on those who make others wear them.

"No-one may wear in public places clothes that are aimed at hiding the face," says the text of a new law that is to be presented to parliament in July, according to a copy seen by the pro-government newspaper Le Figaro.

The law will create a new offence of "incitement to cover the face for reasons of gender," the paper said, and this offence will incur a 15,000 euro fine and a year in prison.

Legislators decided to impose a much smaller fine on women caught wearing the veil in public "because these women are often victims," one of the authors of the law told Le Figaro on condition of anonymity.

Women caught wearing the full veil can choose to attend a "citizenship course" instead of paying the fine, the paper said.

Sarkozy decided this month to opt for a total ban on the full-face veil, despite warnings from the State Council, France's top administrative body, that the law could be struck down as unconstitutional.

The president has declared the burqa and the niqab --veils worn by Muslim woman in parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Gulf -- unwelcome in France, calling them an affront to French values that denigrate women.

There has been a fierce debate in France, home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority of between five and six million, with supporters of a ban arguing that veils are a sign of creeping fundamentalism that must not be allowed to take hold.

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