A French man has been given a five-month suspended prison sentence for tearing a Muslim women’s veil from her face in the city of Nantes.
The 30-year old man carried out the attack at a fairground last September and claimed that he was trying to enforce a French law banning women from wearing the niqab or face-covering veils in public.
Pleading guilty to a charge of aggravated assault, the man was given his sentence by a criminal court which said that “ordinary citizens are not entitled to take the law into their own hands”.
Hi was also ordered to pay compensation to his victim and was convicted of giving police a false identity.
Under French law women found guilty of wearing face coverings in public can be fined €150 (US$190) or forced to take part in citizenship training. The man said he was a firm believer in the law which was brought in by former President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 and has been in force since 2011. However, the judge said he had acted like a “vigilante” and carried out the attack because he was prejudiced against the Islamic faith.
Last year Muslim teenager Louis-Marie Suisse received a two-month prison sentence for biting a policewoman who had arrested her for wearing a veil.
Sarkozy has defended the ban, describing Muslim veils as “an affront to the nation’s values of dignity and equality”, and declaring that they oppress women and are “not welcome” in France. He argued that they could be used by criminals to hide their identities.
Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the controversial legislation as breaching French citizens’ right to freedom of expression.
According to French government estimates there were between 5m and 6m Muslims in the country in 2010.