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French human rights groups challenge burkini bans; verdict today

Paris: Human rights groups have challenged the legality of municipal bans on full-body burkini swimsuits, worn by Muslim women, before France's highest administrative court Thursday, a practice that some denounced as reflecting of Islamophobia.

The three-judge Council of State heard arguments from both sides and said it would pass its ruling Friday over whether to overturn the locally ordered bans or not. There was shock and anger worldwide after photos this week surfaced showing police instructing one Muslim sunbather to remove her body-concealing tunic in Nice, scene of last month's truck slaughter.

The legal fight over the right of Muslim women to wear burkinis has sparked a national debate over the place of Islam in France, a strictly secular country, and fueled concerns at both within and outside the country that some French mayors are overstepping their powers.

The lawyers for two human rights groups told the court that the bans on wearing any religious garments on beaches, if upheld by the court, could be extended to transit networks and other public places.

"France has lost any sense of proportion in this matter. The Council of State must be a compass in the tempest and show the right way," a lawyer for the Human Rights League, Patrice Spinosi, said. "The bans have been issued by a reflex of fear."