The political row in France over mayors banning the burkini has intensified after a woman in a headscarf was photographed on a beach in Nice removing a long-sleeved top while surrounded by armed police.
The series of pictures, taken by a local French news photographer, showed a woman dressed in leggings, a long-sleeved tunic and headscarf being approached by four officers. As the police stand around her, she removes her long-sleeved top, revealing a short-sleeved top underneath. It is unclear whether or not the woman was ordered to do so. In another image, a police officer appears to write out a fine.
A spokesman for Vantage News, which released the pictures in the UK, said they were taken at about 11am (10am BST) on Tuesday. âThe woman was fined, she left the beach and so did the police,â the spokesman said.
The Nice mayorâs office denied that she had been forced to remove clothing, telling Agence France-Presse that the woman was showing police the swimsuit she was wearing under her tunic over a pair of leggings.
The woman was wearing ordinary clothes and not a burkini, or full-body swimsuit. The photographer noticed the police presence, but was standing far from the scene and took the pictures with a long lens, his French photo agency told newspaper LibÃ©ration.
Last week, Nice banned the burkini on its beaches, following about 15 seaside areas in south-east France where mayors have done the same.
Niceâs deputy mayor, Christian Estrosi, from the centre-right Les RÃ©publicains party, said a municipal police team had âacted perfectly to make sure that [the] decree was respectedâ. He threatened legal action against anyone disseminating pictures of municipal police. A total of 24 women have been stopped by police in the city since the burkini ban came into force.
The pictures of the woman removing the item of clothing were met with outrage. âI am so ashamed,â tweeted the French feminist Caroline De Haas.
Accounts of other women being stopped by police for wearing Muslim headscarves and long-sleeved clothing on beaches caused fury among the ruling Socialist party and rights groups.
In Cannes, a 34-year-old mother of two described how she had been stopped and fined on a beach, where she was sitting with her children, while wearing clothes and a headscarf.
âI was sitting on a beach with my family. I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming,â said the former flight attendant from Toulouse, giving her name only as Siam.
Speaking to BFMTV, she said three police officers had approached her and said a decree issued by the mayor of Cannes stipulated that everyone had to wear correct and appropriate clothing, and that she should tie her headscarf round her head as a bandana or leave the beach.
She told the police that she thought her clothing was normal and appropriate, she had not shocked anyone and there was no law stopping her being dressed as she was.
âI wasnât in a burkini, I wasnât in a burqa, I wasnât naked, so I considered my clothing was appropriate,â she said. She described a mini-riot around her as about 10 people ran over in support, telling the police that the family was not bothering anyone, while about 10 others verbally insulted her. âThere were insults like âGo homeâ, âWe donât want that hereâ, âFrance is a Catholic countryâ. My daughter was crying, she didnât understand why her mother was being asked to leave.â
She was fined by police, who wrote on her ticket that her clothing did not conform with âgood mannersâ or French secularism.
Mathilde Cusin, a journalist who was at the scene, said: âSome people clearly applauded the police … People asked her to leave or take off her headscarf. It felt like I was watching a pack turn on a woman seated on the ground in tears with her daughter.â
The mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, told magazine LâObs that he supported the police who had taken the decision to enforce the ban on any âostentatious outfitsâ at the beach.
Other footage, posted on Twitter by Feiza Ben Mohamed of the Nice-based Federation of Muslims in the South, appeared to show a woman in headscarf, trousers and tunic top being apprehended by police for standing on a beach. A police officer explained that her way of dressing could be a public order risk.
The Socialists said the actions of police and bystanders towards Siam in Cannes showed a âparticularly dangerousâ excess and were âincompatible with the lawâ.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith requested urgent talks with the interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, citing the âgrowing fear of stigmatisation of Muslims in Franceâ.
Afterwards, Cazeneuve said: âThe implementation of secularism and the option of adopting such decrees must not lead to stigmatisation or the creation of hostility between French people.â
On Thursday, the council of state, Franceâs highest administrative court, will examine a request by the French Human Rights League to scrap the burkini bans. Lawyers argue that the short-term decrees are illegal.
The bans follow the Bastille Day attack in Nice and the murder of a priest in Normandy. The various mayoral decrees do not explicitly use the word burkini; instead they ban âbeachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation,â citing reasons such as the need to protect public order, hygiene or French laws on secularism.
But wearing a burkini remains legal in France. It is also legal to wear in public a Muslim headscarf that does not cover the face.
The burkini bans have prompted a row over the French principle of laÃ¯citÃ© (secularism), amid accusations that politicians are twisting and distorting this principle for political gain, and to target Muslims.
The French republic is built on a strict separation of church and state, intended to foster equality for all private beliefs. In theory, the state is neutral in terms of religion and allows everyone the freedom to practise their faith as long as there is no threat to public order.
BenoÃ®t Hamon, a former education minister running to be the Socialistsâ presidential candidate in the 2017 election, said a woman being stopped by police for wearing a headscarf on a beach made a mockery of French secularism and warned against âan obsessive oneupmanship against Muslimsâ by politicians.
The Green party senator Esther Benbassa tweeted: âWomen in headscarves stopped by police on the beach. Secularism? No. Harassment. Anti-religious persecution.â
The French group Osez le fÃ©minisme said: âWe condemn these anti-burkini decrees. Where are womenâs rights when we hold one category of women responsible for âpublic disorderâ, or even for terrorism? What is the link between a woman in a headscarf on a beach and mass murders carried out by jihadis?â
The Muslim headscarf has been thrust on to the political agenda by the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who wants to ban it from being worn at universities and in private companies. His ally and former minister Ãric Woerth told French TV that wearing a headscarf was a kind of provocation.
France has some of the toughest legislation on headscarves in Europe. This includes a ban on niqab full-face coverings in all public places on the basis that they hide a personâs identity.
State workers in the public service, such as in hospitals or town halls, must by law be impartial and neutral, and so cannot show their religious belief at work with an outward symbol such as a headscarf, cross or turban.
In 2004, a law outlawed all religious symbols in state schools, which banned girls from wearing a headscarf, or hijab, to school, as well as religious symbols such as a cross, the Jewish kippa or a turban.