French Retiree Convicted of Attacking Veiled Woman

PARIS -- A Paris court handed a French retiree a one-month suspended sentence Thursday for attacking a Middle Eastern woman who was wearing a face-covering Muslim veil.

The court also ordered Jeanne Ruby, a retired English teacher, to pay euro800 ($1,140) in damages to the victim, a citizen of the United Arab Emirates who was on holiday in Paris when the February incident took place.

Ruby had been charged with "aggravated violence" for scratching, biting and slapping the woman and snatching her veil off. The prosecutor in the case had asked Ruby be given a two-month suspended sentence.

In a recent interview with Le Parisien newspaper, Ruby compared the niqab to a "muzzle" and said she didn't mean to harm the woman, but just wanted to pull the veil off.

Ruby -- who has lived in Saudi Arabia, where many women wear such veils -- told investigators that she was shocked to see such a garment in Paris, according to documents read during the court proceedings.

The incident took place in a Paris home decor store in February, as France's conservative government was in the early stages of hammering out a plan to ban the wearing of face-covering burqa-style Muslim veils in public. The measure officially became law last month, though it won't actually be applied for several months.

In its decision Thursday, the court noted that Ruby's behavior would have been unacceptable even if the law had been in effect when the incident took place.

Government officials say that ensuring gender equality, women's dignity and security -- and upholding a tradition of secularism -- are the official reasons France is outlawing the fully covering Islamic veils, like "niqabs," which hide all but the eyes.

Authorities insist the ban, which also applies to visiting foreigners, is not anti-Muslim, but many Muslims have expressed fears the law would stigmatize them.