France's highest administrative court struck a blow against controversial 'burkini bans' Friday, upending one town's decision to prohibit the full-body swimsuit on its beaches.
The Council of State suspended the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet, just west of Nice, saying it "seriously, and clearly illegally, breached the fundamental freedoms to come and go, the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom."
The Riviera town was one of roughly 30 municipalities to forbid beachgoers from donning the swimsuit often worn by Muslim women, reporter Jake Cigainero tells our Newscast unit.
The ruling is expected to affect those other bans, The Associated Press reports. And a lawyer representing the Human Rights League — one of the groups that challenged Villeneuve-Loubet's ban — tells the news service that the decision "is meant to set legal precedent."
"Today all the ordinances taken should conform to the decision of the Council of State. Logically the mayors should withdraw these ordinances. If not legal actions could be taken," Patrice Spinosi was quoted as saying by the AP.
The bans on the beachwear have sparked controversy in France and worldwide. As the Two-Way has reported, proponents have argued that the bans enhance security and defend French ideas of secularism in light of attacks in Nice and near Rouen. Opponents call them discriminatory.
Proponents of the bans, such as Cannes Mayor David Lisnard, called the swimsuit "the symbol of Islamist extremism," when his city instituted a ban earlier this summer.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls also has expressed support for the ban. As Cigainero reports, "Valls says France is in a 'battle of cultures' and that the burkini represents the enslavement of women."
Reuters adds that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Thursday that if elected president, he would institute a nationwide ban on the burkini. Sarkozy announced his candidacy earlier this week.
Opponents of the bans celebrated Friday's ruling.
"This is a slap for the prime minister and a kick up the backside for Sarkozy," said Abdallah Zekri, secretary general of the French Muslim Council, according to Reuters.
International opposition to the ban galvanized recently as photos purporting to show a woman forced to strip out of her burkini made headlines and were widely shared on social media.
The Guardian describes the incident:
"The images of police confronting the woman in Nice on Tuesday show at least four police officers standing over a woman who was resting on the shore at the town's Promenade des Anglais, the scene of last month's Bastille Day lorry attack.
"After they arrive, she appears to remove a blue long-sleeved tunic, although one of the officers appears to take notes or issue an on-the-spot fine.
"The photographs emerged as a mother of two also told on Tuesday how she had been fined on the beach in nearby Cannes wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf.
"Her ticket, seen by French news agency AFP, read that she was not wearing 'an outfit respecting good morals and secularism'."
In an interview with The New York Times this week, the women credited with inventing the burkini said those who banned the swimwear had "misunderstood" its purpose. "Because the burkini swimsuit is freedom and happiness and lifestyle changes — you can't take that away from a Muslim, or any other woman, that chooses to wear it," Aheda Zanetti told the newspaper.