French court annuls fine for veil-wearing Muslim driver

Sandrine Mouleres speaks to reporters on 23 April 2010
Image caption The fine imposed on Ms Mouleres attracted great interest amid the wider debate over veils

A French court has annulled a fine imposed on a woman for wearing an Islamic veil while driving.

In April, police in the western city of Nantes fined Sandrine Mouleres 22 euros (£18; $29), saying the veil she was wearing restricted her vision.

Her lawyer hailed the court's decision to quash the fine on Monday, saying the niqab - which shows only the eyes - did not present a danger.

A public ban on face-covering veils comes into force in France next year.

Proponents of the ban say it will defend French values but critics say it could stir anti-Muslim feeling in France, where Islam is the second religion.

Women who flout the ban face fines of 150 euros, with heavier penalties for those found guilty of forcing women to wear a veil.

Muslim headscarves

The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in myriad styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.
The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.
The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf.
The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.
The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear.
The chador, worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.
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Though the fine was small, the case of Ms Mouleres attracted great public interest and gained symbolic importance amid the impassioned debate over banning face veils, correspondents say.

Ms Mouleres's lawyer Jean-Michel Pollono said the fine constituted a breach of his client's human rights.

He argued the niqab moved with the head and thus was not a hindrance to drivers.

"We are in a free country, and as a result, everything that isn't forbidden is allowed," he said on Monday.

"We can now drive with a niqab."

France has Europe's largest Muslim minority population, estimated at about five million. The French interior ministry estimates that only about 1,900 women wear full veils in the country.

There are several types of headscarves and veils for Muslim women - those that cover the face being the niqab and the burka. In France, the niqab is the version most commonly worn.

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