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Top French court rules burkini bans violate basic freedoms

Lawyer Patrice Spinosi, representing the Human Rights League, answers reporters outside the Conseil d’Etat, France’s top administrative court, in Paris, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. The court has overturned a town burkini ban amid shock and anger worldwide after some Muslim women were ordered to remove body concealing garments on French Riviera beaches. less

Lawyer Patrice Spinosi, representing the Human Rights League, answers reporters outside the Conseil d’Etat, France’s top administrative court, in Paris, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. The court has overturned a town . more

Marwan Muhammad, head of the Collective Against the Islamophobia in France, answers reporters outside the Conseil d’Etat, France’s top administrative court, in Paris, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. The court has overturned a town burkini ban amid shock and anger worldwide after some Muslim women were ordered to remove body concealing garments on French Riviera beaches. less

Marwan Muhammad, head of the Collective Against the Islamophobia in France, answers reporters outside the Conseil d’Etat, France’s top administrative court, in Paris, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. The court has . more

FILE In this Aug. 4 2016 file photo made from video, Nissrine Samali, 20, gets into the sea wearing a burkini, a wetsuit like garment that also covers the head, in Marseille, southern France. France’s top administrative court has overturned Friday Aug. 26, 2016 a town burkini ban amid shock and anger worldwide after some Muslim women were ordered to remove body concealing garments on French Riviera beaches. less

FILE In this Aug. 4 2016 file photo made from video, Nissrine Samali, 20, gets into the sea wearing a burkini, a wetsuit like garment that also covers the head, in Marseille, southern France. France’s top . more

Activists protest outside the French embassy, during the “wear what you want beach party” in London, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. Writing on the sign reads: ‘No to Islamophobia, yes to Burkinis.’ less

Activists protest outside the French embassy, during the “wear what you want beach party” in London, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. more

An undated screen capture from the Marks Spencer website of a “burkini.” The creation and marketing by designers of conservative clothing aimed at the Muslim market has prompted a debate about tolerance and understanding vs. aesthetic and female equality in France. (Handout via The New York Times) NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH STORY SLUGGED ISLAMIC FASHION BY FRIEDMAN FOR APRIL 14, 2016, 2016. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED. less

An undated screen capture from the Marks Spencer website of a “burkini.” The creation and marketing by designers of conservative clothing aimed at the Muslim market has prompted a debate about tolerance and . more

PARIS (AP) France’s top administrative court on Friday overturned a ban on burkinis in a Mediterranean beach resort, effectively meaning that towns can no longer issue bans on the swimsuits that have divided the country and brought world attention to its fraught relationship with Muslims.

The ruling by the Council of State specifically concerns a ban on the Muslim garment in the Riviera town of Villeneuve Loubet, but the binding decision is expected to impact all the 30 or so French resort municipalities that have issued similar decrees.

The bans grew increasingly controversial as images circulated online of some Muslim women being ordered to remove body concealing garments on French Riviera beaches.

The controversy over the body covering swimwear for Muslim women the burkini is creating a business boost for its inventor.

Some French resorts have banned burkinis, which leave only the face, hands and feet exposed, as contravening laws on secularism with Prime Minister Manual Valls saying it’s ‘not compatible with the values of France’.

The designer of the costumes, Aheda Zanetti, said the publicity meant online orders jumped fivefold.

She doesn’t think the garment is going to go away: “Our sales have increased and the more they actually ban it, or the more they actually reject it, it doesn’t mean a woman will ever stop wearing it.Smart Watch I mean, we’ve introduced this new lifestyle to women that never had it. Do you honestly think one man that says one thing like that, that a woman’s going to listen? We’re women, we know what’s best for us.”

Zanetti, who has lived in Australia for more than 40 years since moving there from Lebanon, came up with the design and the name burkini or burqini in 2004 after discovering a lack of sporting garments suitable for Muslim women.

She estimates around 40 percent of sales are to non Muslims, including cancer survivors, body conscious mothers or women who want to protect their skin from the sun.

Despite the court victory, the debate was unlikely to go away. Prime Minister , who supported the bans, called the debate “fundamental” for secular France, where religious displays are unwelcome in the public space.

Valls wrote on his Facebook page that denouncing the burkini “in no way puts into question individual freedom” and is really about denouncing “fatal, retrograde Islamism.” The burkini, he wrote, “is the affirmation of political Islam in the public space.”

Mayors had cited multiple reasons for the bans, including security after a string of Islamic extremist attacks, risk to public order, and France’s strict rules on secularism in public life.

The Council of State ruled that, “The emotion and concerns arising from the terrorist attacks, notably the one perpetrated in Nice on July 14, cannot suffice to justify in law the contested prohibition measure.”

It ruled that the mayor of Villeneuve Loubet overstepped his powers by enacting measures that are not justified by “proven risks of disruptions to public order nor, moreover, on reasons of hygiene or decency.”

“The contested decree has thus brought a serious and manifestly illegal infringement on basic freedoms such as freedom to come and go, freedom of conscience and personal freedom,” the ruling read.

Lawyer , representing the , said that women who have already received fines can protest them based on Friday’s decision. He told the group plans to ask all French mayors who banned burkinis to withdraw their orders and, if they refuse to do so, he will systematically take each case to court.

“It is a decision that is meant to set legal precedent,” Spinosi said to reporters earlier outside the court. “Today all the ordinances taken should conform to the decision of the Council of State. Logically the mayors should withdraw these ordinances. If not, legal actions could be taken” against those towns.