Driver wearing Islamic face veil fined in France

NANTES, France (AP) — A woman driver wearing an Islamic face veil has been fined by French police for not having a clear field of vision. The fine was small, but it garnered big attention Friday and may illustrate what's to come as the president pushes to outlaw the veils nationwide.

Traffic police in the western city of Nantes fined the 31-year-old woman euro22 ($29) in early April, her lawyer said. The fine was based on a rule that says drivers should have freedom of movement and a sufficient field of vision, lawyer Jean-Michel Pollono said.

Pollono said Friday that he is protesting the decision, saying a veil is no different from a motorcycle helmet in terms of hindrance to vision.

Sarkozy raised the stakes Wednesday in France's drive to abolish the all-encompassing veil, ordering a draft law banning them in all public places. Sarkozy, who says the veils oppress women, decided to defy France's highest administrative body, which says such a full ban risks being declared unconstitutional.

The woman detained for driving in a veil said on i-Tele television, "my field of vision was sufficient." She raised the back of her veil over her head and covered her eyes totally, and added, "Now, it is not."

The woman's name was not released.

She is French by nationality, and her lawyer says she has driven in France with her face veiled for the past nine years and never been stopped until now, after months of recent parliamentary discussion and government talk about possibly banning the veils.

When she was stopped, the traffic police asked her to raise her veil to confirm her identity, which she complied, Pollono said.

"A French citizen cannot be fined based on the way he or she dresses," Pollono said. "If the veil is forbidden behind the wheel, then nuns should not be able to drive, and full helmets for motorcyclists should be banned, because you can't see on the sides, and even some police units who drive with masks should be fined."

Sarkozy's move angered Muslims in the Arab world and worried Muslims in France, who fear they are being stigmatized because of a very small minority of women in France who cover their faces with niqabs or burqas.

A leading French conservative lawmaker who has been at the forefront of the push against the veils, Jean-Francois Cope, has been given police protection, officials said Friday.

Cope has had a security officer accompanying him since January, said two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. In January, Cope, head of the governing conservative party UMP in the lower house of parliament, submitted a proposed bill on banning the veil. The officials would not comment on a report in the French daily Le Parisien that Cope had received threats.

French officials have cited a concealed face as a security risk. Belgium also is considering a ban, and some Muslim countries have also struggled with how to deal with the face veils.

France has western Europe's largest Muslim population, estimated at least 5 million. The French parliament outlawed Muslim headscarves and other "ostentatious" religious symbols from classrooms in 2004.


Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.