PARIS (AP) — A Frenchwoman who wears an Islamic face veil — flouting a nationwide ban — announced Thursday she wants to run for president in next year's elections.
Also Thursday, a French court fined two women who have refused to remove their veils. All three women are part of a growing attack on the law that has banned the garments from the streets of France since April and prompted similar moves toward a ban in other European countries.
They are bent on proving that the measure contravenes fundamental rights and that women who hide their faces stand for freedom, not submission.
"When a woman wants to maintain her freedom, she must be bold," Kenza Drider told The Associated Press in an interview, discussing her bid to become a presidential candidate.
President Nicolas Sarkozy strongly disagrees, and says the veil imprisons women. Polls show that most French people support the ban, which authorities estimate affects fewer than 2,000 women who wore the veil before the ban.
Drider declared her candidacy Thursday in Meaux, the city east of Paris run by top conservative lawmaker and Sarkozy ally Jean-Francois Cope, who championed the ban.
Two other women arrested wearing veils in Meaux — while trying to deliver a birthday cake to Cope — faced a court date Thursday. One was fined euro120, the other euro80. The law envisages fines up to euro150 and citizenship classes for those caught wearing the face veil.
The women were hoping for a conviction, so that they can take their case to France's highest court and the European Court of Human Rights.
With Islam the second religion in France, there are worries that veiled Muslim women could compromise the nation's secular foundations and undermine gender equality and women's dignity. There are also concerns that practices like wearing full veils could open the door to a radical form of Islam. Lawmakers banned Muslim headscarves in classrooms in 2004.
Belgium passed a similar face veil ban that took effect in July, and the Netherlands announced Friday it has drawn up legislation to outlaw Muslim face veils. A draft law has been approved in Italy.