Two women protesting France’s new ban on Islamic face veils have been arrested after taking part in a demonstration in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The law, which was approved by parliament in September, went into effect Monday. Police say the women were not arrested for wearing the veils, but for taking part in an unauthorized protest.
Under the new law, veiled women can be fined $215 or assigned to take special citizenship classes, but it is not a jailable offense. However, people who force women to wear a veil are subject to up to a year in prison and a fine of $41,000. Police have been ordered not to force anyone to take off the veil in public.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said the measure is critical to ensure the respect of women’s rights and the separation of religion and state. Advocates argue the legislation is necessary if the country’s estimated 5 million to 6 million Muslims – many of them immigrants – are to integrate.
Muslim women who object to the new law call the veil a statement of their Islamic faith. In a media release Monday, the human rights organization Amnesty International condemned the arrests and said that women in France have the right to freedom of religion and expression.
On Saturday, police arrested 61 people in Paris for holding an unauthorized protest against the ban.