Top French court upholds ban on barristers wearing hijab in Lille courtrooms

Top French court upholds ban on barristers wearing hijab in Lille courtrooms
A photo taken in 2015 shows a visitor trying on a headscarf on a seller's stand during the 32nd Annual Meeting of France's Muslims. (AFP)
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Updated 02 March 2022

Top French court upholds ban on barristers wearing hijab in Lille courtrooms

Top French court upholds ban on barristers wearing hijab in Lille courtrooms
  • The case was brought by Sarah Asmeta, a 30-year-old hijab-wearing French-Syrian lawyer
  • She challenged a rule set by the Bar Council of Lille that bans religious markers in courtrooms on grounds that it was discriminatory

PARIS: France’s highest court on Wednesday upheld a ban on barristers wearing the hijab and other religious symbols in courtrooms in the north, a ruling that is the first of its kind and sets a precedent for the rest of the country.
The conspicuous display of religious symbols is an emotive subject in France and the court’s decision may stir a nationwide debate over so-called core Republican values of secularism and identity ahead of April’s presidential election.
The case was brought by Sarah Asmeta, a 30-year-old hijab-wearing French-Syrian lawyer, who challenged a rule set by the Bar Council of Lille that bans religious markers in its courtrooms on the grounds that it was discriminatory.
In its ruling, the Court of Cassation said the ban was “necessary and appropriate, on the one hand to preserve the independence of the lawyer and, on the other, to guarantee the right to a fair trial.”
Banning the wearing of religious symbols “does not constitute discrimination,” it added.
Asmeta told Reuters she was shocked and disappointed with the ruling.
“Why does covering my hair stop my client from the right to a free trial?” she told Reuters. “My clients are not children. If they choose me as their lawyer, with my veil, then it is their choice.”
There is no law that explicitly says Asmeta cannot wear her hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women, in the courtroom.
In the months after she took an oath and entered law as a trainee barrister, the Lille Bar Council passed its own internal rule banning any signs of political, philosophical and religious conviction to be worn with the gown in court.
Asmeta challenged the Lille Bar Council’s rule, calling it targeted and discriminatory. She lost the case in an appeals court in 2020 and pushed the matter up to the Court of Cassation.
Religious symbols and clothing are banned for public servants in France due to its principle of “laïcité,” or secularism — the separation of religion from the state.
French lawmakers and politicians have in recent years sought to extend curbs on wearing the hijab to cover, for example, mothers who accompany their children on school trips and football players.
As a presidential election in April approaches, right-wing candidates have focused on identity issues.
Asmeta said she was contemplating taking her fight to the European Court of Human Rights.
The case has provoked a heated debate within the legal community.
More than three dozen lawyers from Paris, where the Bar Council has imposed a similar ban, on Monday penned an open letter calling for a nationwide rule against the head covering in courtrooms.
“We, lawyers, do not want a communitarian and obscurantist judiciary,” they wrote in the French publication Marianne.
Slim Ben Achour, a lawyer specializing in discrimination, disagreed and said such bans were hypocritical.
“It is not possible that we, lawyers, the defenders of rights, or at least that is how we sell ourselves, block Muslim women [from practicing],” he told Reuters.


Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
Updated 58 min 45 sec ago

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
  • Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday reiterated his support for a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem during a “candid exchange of views” with former Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process and said he would like to continue contributing to the improvement of the environment for the progress of peace in the Middle East.

Japan’s PM also expressed his support for Palestine’s economic self-reliance through food assistance of more than $8 million – which was provided in response to the deterioration of food security in Palestine as a result of the situation in Ukraine – and the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” initiative promoted by Japan. Hamdallah expressed his gratitude for Japan’s support. 

Hamdallah conveyed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Kishida expressed his gratitude for the condolences sent by Palestinian officials.

Both sides agreed to continue to develop the relationship between Japan and Palestine.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan.


India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’
Updated 37 min 12 sec ago

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’
  • The Popular Front of India denies involvement in extremist activity
  • Police have arrested more than 300 PFI cadres in raids across the country since Friday

NEW DELHI: India banned an Islamist group and its affiliates for five years on Wednesday over alleged terrorism links, after a nationwide crackdown that saw hundreds of the organization’s members arrested.
A government notice said the Popular Front of India (PFI) had been outlawed for its ties to extremist organizations, including the Daesh group, and for violent attacks attributed to its members.
The PFI denies involvement in extremist activity and says it is the subject of a “witch hunt” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Police have arrested more than 300 PFI cadres in raids across the country since Friday.
A home affairs ministry statement announcing the ban outlined a laundry list of charges accusing the group of violent and subversive activities.
Members had engaged in “cold-blooded killings of persons associated with organizations espousing other faiths, obtaining explosives to target prominent people and places and destruction of public property,” Wednesday’s notice said.
The ministry said PFI members had been responsible for at least 10 murders in southern India since 2016 and accused the group of “pursuing a secret agenda” to radicalize society and undermine democracy.
Hard-line Hindu groups have long campaigned for a ban on PFI, which is estimated to have tens of thousands of members around India.
Calls to outlaw the organization have grown in recent months after several Muslim-led protests against the government.
The group was accused of organizing street rallies against a state ban on the wearing of hijabs by Muslim school students in Karnataka, which resulted in violent confrontations between protesters and Hindu activists.
Modi’s government has been accused of clamping down on dissent and promoting discriminatory policies toward the country’s 200-million-strong Muslim minority since coming to power in 2014.
Actions against the PFI were “a conscious attempt by the Modi government to spread Islamophobia among the public and demonize Muslims as a community,” CPIML Liberation, a communist political party in India, wrote on Twitter.
But the PFI has been implicated in violent attacks before, with 13 members jailed in 2015 for hacking off the hand of a university lecturer accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Wednesday’s ministry notice said some PFI activists had joined Islamic State and participated in terror activities in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It also linked the PFI to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an extremist group that carried out several bombing attacks in India’s eastern neighbor in 2005 that left at least 28 dead.


UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
Updated 28 September 2022

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
  • UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity

UNITED NATIONS: A senior UN official warned Tuesday of a possible internal conflict and worsening poverty in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t respond quickly to the needs of all elements of society, saying their crackdown on the rights of girls and women signals indifference to over 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population and a willingness to risk international isolation.
Markus Potzel, the UN deputy representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council some of the Taliban’s “claimed and acknowledged achievements” are also eroding.
He pointed to a steady rise in armed clashes, criminal activity and high profile terrorist attacks especially by the Islamic State extremist group which demonstrated in recent months that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attack foreign embassies, fire rockets against Afghanistan’s neighbors — and maintain their longstanding campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Potzel said the economic situation also “remains tenuous,” with food security worsening and winter approaching.
The UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion has only received $1.9 billion which is “alarming,” he said, urging donors to immediately provide $614 million to support winter preparations and an additional $154 million to preposition essential supplies before places get cut off by winter weather.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity. And “we worry” that the figures will soon become worse because winter weather will send already high fuel and food prices skyrocketing, he said.
While there have been some positive developments in Afghanistan in recent months, Potzel said, they have been too few, too slow, “and are outweighed by the negatives, “in particular, the ongoing ban on secondary education for girls — unique in the world — and growing restrictions on women’s rights.”
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were subject to overwhelming restrictions — no education, no participation in public life, and women were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa.
Following the Taliban ouster by US forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and for the next 20 years, Afghan girls were not only enrolled in school but universities, and many women became doctors, lawyers, judges, members of parliament and owners of businesses, traveling without face coverings.
After the Taliban overran the capital on Aug. 15, 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, they promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule including allowing women to continue their education and work outside the home.
They initially announced no dress code though they also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. But Taliban hard-liners have since turned back the clock to their previous harsh rule, confirming the worst fears of human rights activists and further complicating Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Potzel said that in UN discussions with Taliban officials, leaders state that the decision has been made and is maintained by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, “defended by hard-liners around him, but questioned by most of the rest of the movement who are either unable or unwilling to change the trajectory.”
The result, he said, is that women and girls are relegated to their home, deprived of their rights, and “Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer.”
“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” Potzel said.
“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population,” he said.


UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests
Updated 28 September 2022

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

WASHINGTON: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi not to use “disproportionate force” against protesters who took to the streets after the death of a young woman in morality police custody, his spokesman said Tuesday.
In a bilateral meeting last week during the UN General Assembly, Guterres “stressed to President Raisi the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” Dujarric said in a statement.
He said Guterres “calls on the security forces to refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force and appeals to all to exercise utmost restraint to avoid further escalation.”
He also called for a “prompt, impartial and effective investigation” into the death of Mahsa Amini, the young woman who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police, sparking nationwide protests that have left at least dozens of people dead.
Raisi on Saturday labelled the protests “riots” and urged “decisive action against the opponents of the security and peace of the country and the people,” his office said.


Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000
Updated 28 September 2022

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000
  • Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency

SAN DIEGO: President Joe Biden on Tuesday kept the nation’s cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 budget year, despite pressure from advocates to raise it even higher to meet the need after falling far short of that target this year.
Refugees advocates have been pushing the Biden administration to do more to restore the US Refugee Admissions Program. The more than four-decade-old program suffered deep cuts under the Trump administration, which slashed admissions to a record low of 15,000.
Biden raised the cap to four times that amount, but so far fewer than 20,000 refugees have been admitted this budget year, which ends Sept. 30.
That number excludes the roughly 180,000 Ukrainians and Afghans who came to the United States via a legal process called humanitarian parole that got them into the country more quickly than the traditional refugee program but only allows for stays of up to two years.
Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency. Their admissions are determined by the president each year, and federal funding for resettlement agencies is based on the number of people they resettle in a given year.
The 125,000 target “is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest,” Biden stated in his presidential determination. Historically, the average has been 95,000 under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Biden earmarked 5,000 more slots for people from Europe and Central Asia for the 2023 budget year, making room to accommodate those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The largest number of slots — 40,000 — was set aside for refugees from Africa, followed by 35,000 from South Asia and 15,000 each from East Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Biden has struggled to restore the US Refugee Program despite raising the numbers and removing bureaucratic barriers put in place by his predecessor, which slowed the process and led to a massive backlog.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the Biden administration must act now to improve the refugee program with the United Nations reporting a record 100 million people being displaced from their homes.
“It must ramp up and streamline overseas processing of refugee applications if this lifesaving program is to remain relevant amid an unprecedented global displacement crisis,” she said in a statement.