France's highest administrative court halted the controversial ban on full-body "burkinis" imposed by the town of Villeneuve-Loubet on the grounds that it "seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms."
The court said a final decision on the legality of the ban—which is similar to those also in place in some 30 French towns, mostly on the Riviera—would be made later. If Villeneuve-Loubet's ban is found to be illegal, that ruling could set a precedent for the others, the BBC reports. Correspondents said the court's action makes it likely that the other bans will also be overturned.
Human rights groups welcomed the court's move on Friday.
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"By overturning a discriminatory ban that is fueled by and is fueling prejudice and intolerance, today's decision has drawn an important line in the sand," said Amnesty International's Europe director John Dalhuisen. "French authorities must now drop the pretense that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women. Rather, invasive and discriminatory measures such as these restrict women's choices and are an assault on their freedoms of expression, religion and right to non-discrimination."
"These bans do nothing to increase public safety, but do a lot to promote public humiliation. Not only are they in themselves discriminatory, but as we have seen, the enforcement of these bans leads to abuses and the degrading treatment of Muslim women and girls," Dalhuisen said.
The Human Rights League (LDF) and the anti-Islamaphobia group Collectif Contre l'Islamophobie en France (CCIF) asked the court to rule on the ban.
Patrice Spinosi, an attorney for the LDF, said, "The council has ruled and has showed that mayors do not have the right to set limits on wearing religious signs in public spaces. It is contrary to the freedom of religion, which is a fundamental freedom."