Driver wearing Islamic face veil fined in France

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 is 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.

The driver gave a news conference Friday - while wearing the niqab veil, which covers the entire face except for the eyes - and expressed "a feeling of injustice" over the incident.

"I didn't commit any infraction," said the driver, who declined to give her name. "I see just as well as you. ... I have driven like this for nine years. I've not had any problems."

The driver is French by nationality. The lawyer said she had never been stopped until now, after months of recent parliamentary discussion and government talk about possibly banning the veils.

As the case escalated in the media spotlight, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux's office said he wrote to his counterpart at the Immigration Ministry to request a study into whether the woman's Algerian-born husband could be stripped of French nationality for suspected illegal behavior.

In the letter to Immigration Minister Eric Besson, Hortefeux said the man was suspected of polygamy and fraud of state social services by allegedly benefiting from state financial aid for single parents paid to each of his four wives - all of whom wear veils. An Interior Ministry official provided details of the letter, though not the husband's name, to The Associated Press.

President Nicolas 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. He insists the veils oppress women, and decided to defy France's highest administrative body, which says such a full ban could be found unconstitutional.

When the driver was stopped, the traffic police asked her to raise her veil to confirm her identity, and 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.

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

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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