“France made face masks mandatory in public – but its ban on face veils, burqas and niqabs is still in force,” reads an Instagram post, reposted as a screenshot on 20 May 2020 and doing the rounds on the social network in South Africa.
“Officials told @washingtonpost women who wear them as face coverings can be punished with fines.”
Three Instagram users have reported the post as potentially false. We investigated.
Law prohibiting concealment of face
In October 2010 the French government passed a law prohibiting the concealment of the face in public space. Anyone wearing a garment intended to conceal the face would be liable to a fine or a compulsory citizenship course, or both. The law came into effect in April 2011.
“Muslim women in full-face veils, or niqab, are now banned from any public activity including walking down the street, taking a bus, going to the shops or collecting their children from school,” the UK Guardian reported at the time.
“French politicians in favour of the ban said they were acting to protect the ‘gender equality’ and ‘dignity’ of women.”
Face masks compulsory in public
On 11 May 2020 it became compulsory in France for people to wear face masks on public transport and in secondary schools, to help control the Covid-19 outbreak. The French government also said shops and markets would have the right to ask shoppers to wear masks.
The day before, the US-based Washington Post published an investigation into whether the 2010 law would still be policed when the regulations on face masks came into effect. The article’s headline gives the answer: “France mandates masks to control the coronavirus. Burqas remain banned.”
France’s Interior Ministry confirmed to the Washington Post that the ban on burqas and niqabs would still apply during the coronavirus crisis. The paper quoted a ministry statement as saying a woman who wears a religious face covering will be “punished with the fine provided for second-class infractions”.
The ministry reportedly said that “wearing a mask intended to prevent any risk of contagion by Covid-19 does not constitute a criminal offence”, as the 2010 law allows face coverings for health reasons. – Mary Alexander
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