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European rights court slams Belgium on headscarf issue

European Human Rights Court rules that excluding woman from courtroom for refusing to remove headscarf is a violation

European rights court slams Belgium on headscarf issue

By Hajer M'tiri


The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday convicted Belgian authorities for violating the EU Convention on Human Rights by excluding a Muslim woman from a courtroom for refusing to remove her headscarf.

In 2007, the applicant, referred to by the EU court as "Mrs Lachiri", was attending a court hearing in a case concerning the death of her brother.

The presiding judge of the court told Lachiri "that she could not enter the hearing room unless she removed her headscarf". She refused to comply and did not attend the hearing.

Lachiri challenged the decision in local courts before lodging a complain at the top EU court in December 2008.

The ECHR ruled by a majority of six votes to one "that there had been: a violation of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights".

According to the court's ruling, excluding Lachiri "from the courtroom on the grounds that she had refused to remove her headscarf had amounted to a 'restriction' on the exercise of her right to manifest her religion."

"The Court therefore held that the need for the restriction in question had not been established and that the infringement of Mrs Lachiri’s right to freedom to manifest her religion was not justified in a democratic society," read the ruling.

Belgium will have to pay Lachiri €1,000 (about $1,650).

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