France burkini: Corsica court upholds local ban

image copyrightReuters
image captionMuslim women in France have insisted on their right to wear the burkini

A court on the French island of Corsica has upheld a local ban on the burkini - the full-body swimwear preferred by some Muslim women.

France's top administrative court ruled in August that beach bans, imposed in a number of towns across the country, violated basic freedoms.

But the court in Bastia ruled that the ban was legal on public order grounds.

Last month, a beach brawl between families of North African descent and local youths left five people injured.

As part of its ruling, the top court said a ban was permissible if there was a proven risk to public order, although swimming in a burkini was not a risk.

After the top court's decision, many of the local authorities lifted their bans, but two resorts in Corsica kept theirs in place.

Why the Corsica court backed the ban

A local mayor imposed the burkini ban at Sisco in mid-August after two villagers and three men of Moroccan origin were wounded in a brawl. What started the violence is unclear, but a local prosecutor said afterwards that the three North African men, from a nearby town, had wanted the beach for themselves.

France's Human Rights League (LDH) argued that the Corsica ban should now be lifted in response to the top court's ruling.

However, the judge in Bastia ruled on Tuesday that "strong emotions" persisted on the Mediterranean island and that the ban should remain.

Any measures imposed by the local mayor had to be proportionate and purely to maintain public order and any restrictions on liberty had to be justified by proven risks, the judge said. However, the court found that the presence of a woman wearing the type of swimming costume covered by the ban "could cause risks to public order which it is the mayor's duty to prevent".

LDH said after the ruling that the idea that just wearing this type of swimming costume could threaten public order was "unacceptable". The rights group says it will appeal to the top court to overturn it.

The Mayor of Sisco, Ange-Pierre Vivoni, who defended the ban in court in person said the verdict was "a relief for me and local people".

image copyrightAFP
image captionTensions are high in Corsica and local mayor Ange-Pierre Vivoni has said he is trying to prevent violence

Mr Vivoni added that he had acted because he "risked having deaths on my hands".

Tension has grown in recent months between local communities and Muslims of North African origin in the south of France, following the massacre of 86 people by a lorry driver on the seafront at Nice on 14 July, an attack claimed by so-called Islamic State.

And in Corsica tensions appear to be even higher. Five women wearing the Islamic headscarf were prevented from entering a nursery school in Corsica by other parents, according to local reports.

image copyrightBBC Sport

What is a burkini?

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  • A burkini is a full-body swimsuit that covers everything except the face, hands and feet
  • The name is a mix of the words "burka" and "bikini"
  • Unlike burkas, burkinis do not cover the face
  • Burkinis are marketed to Muslim women as a way for them to swim in public while adhering to strict modesty edicts
  • The French bans have referred to religious clothing and as they were loosely phrased, came to be understood to include full-length clothing and head coverings worn on the beach - not just burkini swimsuits

What does French law say on secularism and religious clothing?

  • In 2010, France became the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public
  • A 2004 law forbids the wearing of religious emblems in schools and colleges
  • The 1905 constitution aims to separate Church and state. It enshrines secularism in education but also guarantees the freedom of religion and freedom to exercise it. The original text made no reference to clothing

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