Anxiety About Terrorism is 'Insufficient Legal Justification for Burkini Ban'

But on Friday, the highest administrative court in France said the burkini ban in Villeneuve-Loubet, one of the towns that has banned it, "seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms".

Lawyer Patrice Spinosi, representing the Human Rights League, told reporters that the decision should set a precedent, and that other mayors should conform to it.

What's worth mentioning is that the Council of State's ruling deals only with Villeneuve-Loubet, one out of 31 other towns that had imposed similar bans.

The state council ruled that the mayor did not have the right to issue a burkini ban - stating that local authorities could only restrict individual liberties if there was a "proven risk" to public order.

"Beyond the political polemic, the Council of State has declared what the law is".

Opinions polls suggested most French people backed the bans, which town mayors said were protecting public order and secularism.

The burkini - and the decisions to ban wearing them on beaches - has become the focus of spirited global debates over women's rights, assimilation and secularism. The burkini bans by some French coastal towns drew worldwide condemnation after images circulated online of police appearing to require a Muslim woman to disrobe.

Vallaud-Belkacem said she opposed burkinis but dismissed the political argument that the ban was a useful tool in France's fight against militants.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International welcomed the court's decision, with Europe director, John Dalhuisen, saying it had "drawn a line in the sand".

This comes after shocking photos showed armed police standing around a Muslim woman with a headscarf, and forcing her to remove her top on a beach in Nice this week.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy who said he is to run again in the 2017 general elections, on Friday called for a state-wide ban on burkinis.

Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, said he was not in favour of nationwide legislation but appeared to support the law in principle by claiming the burkini was "based on the enslavement of women".

  • Joey Payne