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This Press Release may be read online at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-11-06-2007-00.htm

Press Release: 11th June 2007, 28th Jayth (Samvat 539 Nanakshahi)

 

Sikhs take French turban ban to European human rights court

European Parliament, Brussels -

Shingara Singh whose case was filed by UNITED SIKHS lawyers in the European Human Rights Court today

UNITED SIKHS' lawyers announced that they filed today a legal challenge to the French law banning the wearing of the turban on ID document photos. The case, before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, will be the first such case against France since it passed a law in March 2004 banning the wearing of religious symbols, including the Sikh turban, in public schools.

Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS director for International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy told a media conference at the European Parliament: “It is necessary to take these cases to the international courts as if left unchecked the French law, which undermines the freedom for thought conscience and religion, will have a domino effect on this freedom globally.”

The applicant, Shingara Mann Singh, is a 52 year old Sikh from the northern Paris suburbs, whose replacement driver's licence was refused by the French authorities in 2005 and again in 2006. France's highest administrative court, the Conseil D'Etat, has ruled that public security justifies a law which requires Sikhs to remove their turbans to be photographed for driver's licences . UNITED SIKHS will also apply to the ECHR for permission to intervene in the case, on behalf of the wider Sikh community and in support of the freedom of thought conscience and religion.

Shingara Singh, a French national for more than 20 years, has had a driving licence for as many years, showing him wearing a turban on his photo.

“I lost my driving licence during a robbery two years ago and was refused a replacement unless I remove my turban for the photo. Before the robbery, at no time was I asked to substitute the photograph with one showing me without a turban.” said Shingara Singh, a devout Sikh who wears his turban at all times.

“I will give up my head but not my turban, which covers my unshorn hair,” he added.

The turban has not only been banned for ID photographs. Since the passing of the controversial French law banning religious symbols, including the Sikh turban, in public educational establishments, six French Sikh schoolboys have been expelled from school. UNITED SIKHS lawyers are due to appear in the Conseil D'Etat to defend the right of three of the boys to wear the turban in school. If the Conseil D'Etat rules against them, the cases will be appealed to the ECHR and the United Nations Human Rights Committee in New York.

To view a film “Fighting for my Crown”, which highlights the plight of those affected by the turban ban please visit http://www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/dvd

Shingara Singh's London lawyer, Stephen Grosz of Bindman & Partners, who attended the media conference, said: “Forcing a Sikh to remove his turban is an affront to his personal dignity and an insult to his religious beliefs. France is almost alone in imposing this unnecessary requirement which flies in the face of deeply held religious beliefs.”

Sikhs are required by religion to wear their hair unshorn and covered at all times by a turban, an article of faith and an intrinsic aspect of the Sikh identity.

Francois Jacquot, Shingara Singh's lawyer in France, who also attended the media conference, said:
'The French government had always accepted Mann Singh's turban on his ID card, passport and driving licence photographs until it changed its mind a few years ago. Mann Singh is fighting for his right to be a Sikh and to follow the teachings of his religion. Almost every country in the world, where there is a Sikh community, allows a Sikh to wear his turban on ID photographs. France is an exception. We want this country to be more tolerant towards people of different origin and cultures. It would be a mark of great progress for human rights in this country.”

Minority Rights Group International's Director of Advocacy Clive Baldwin, who acted as legal research consultant for the case said, “The French authorities have not shown why it is now necessary for such a major interference with a community's religious identity, when it was not necessary until 2004. Most countries with Sikh populations have accommodated their right to wear a turban. There is no reason why France should be different.”

“Sikhs wear their turbans throughout their day, when driving and when at work. Asking them to remove their turbans for a photo I.D is absurd and shows an absolute lack of respect and sensitivity, for many Sikhs this demand is a grave insult to themselves and their religion,” said Neena Gill, UK Member of the European Parliament and President of the India Delegation.

“I would ask France and other EU member states to reflect upon the British model. In Britain those wearing articles of faith including Turbans are treated equally. Many Turban wearing Sikhs are police officers, army officers and judges as well. Therefore I would ask French authorities to reconsider their position and treat Sikhs as equal members of their society,” she added.

Claude Moraes, UK Member of the European Parliament and President of the European Parliament's all-party group on Anti-racism and Diversity said:

"As a member of the committee for citizen's rights, social justice and home affairs I support all attempts to build a European society based on the respect for their fundamental rights laid down in the EU's treaties which include the right of religion and conscience and expression of culture."

To know more about Sikhs in French history and the Right to Turban campaign please visit

http://www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/french_press_room/

http://www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/

Shingara Mann Singh is represented by Francois Jacquot in Paris and by Stephen Grosz, partner and head of public law and human rights in the London law firm Bindman & Partners.

For more information please contact:

Mejindarpal Kaur

Director

UNITED SIKHS

tel: +44 (0) 7709830 442

law@unitedsikhs.org


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