Muslim couple to challenge veil ban in EU court

A French Muslim husband and wife living in Britain are to challenge France's ban on full-face coverings at the European Court of Human Rights, their lawyer said on Thursday.

The couple lodged an application at the Strasbourg court to challenge the French government over the ban on wearing Islamic veils, which they argue is "unnecessary, disproportionate and unlawful."

They claim it restricts their right to free movement across the EU, according to documents sent to the court. The wife is seeking £10,000 (11,200 euros, $16,400) in damages for the alleged human rights breach.

The couple live in central England with their two children. They have chosen to remain anonymous, citing "considerable hostility" in Britain and France to Muslim women wearing the full veil in public.

"The case clearly is of importance to my clients," said lawyer Robina Shah, of the Immigration Advisory Service in Birmingham, central England.

"As a result of the ban they have had to leave their country of nationality, as the ban restricts their freedom of choice, and that of their daughters."

France in April became the first country in Europe to apply a ban on the wearing of full-face coverings, including the Islamic niqab and the burqa.

The decision triggered a political storm, with rights activists accusing French President Nicolas Sarkozy of targeting of one of France's most vulnerable groups to win back votes from the resurgent far right.

In the latest case, the documents sent to Strasbourg say the couple want to "reside and work in France" but the ban means "they have considerable reservations about living there on a permanent basis."

The principal applicant is the husband who "expects and instructs" his wife to wear the burqa and the niqab. But she "respects and follows" her husband's instructions of her own free will, the Strasbourg court is being told.

Her lawyers argue Muslim women in France are "not able to exercise their rights free from coercion, harassment and discrimination."

"The applicants, as French nationals exercising EU rights to free movement in the UK, have no alternative remedy other than an application to the (European) court," say the lawyers.

Spanish court upholds ban on face-covering veils

A Spanish court has upheld a ban by a city on face-covering Islamic veils worn in municipal buildings.

In 2010, the city of Lleida became the first Spanish one to impose such a ban. But the Catalan regional Superior Justice Tribunal suspended it following an appeal by a Muslim association that claimed it violated basic rights.

The court ruled Wednesday that the northeastern city was within its rights to ban the clothing in municipal buildings for security and identification purposes. It also backed Lleida's argument that the veils are discriminatory.

Other Spanish towns have taken similar steps but their burqa bans have yet to take effect.

About 3 per cent of Lleida's population is Muslim.

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