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This Press Release may be read online at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-27-11-2008-00.htm

Press Release: 27th Nov 2008, Wednesday      13th Maghar (Samvat 540 Nanakshahi )

Press Release

European Court Says No to Sikh Turban on Driving Licence in France

"A travesty of Justice against the Sikh community": Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS legal director

"This decision will not legally affect the fight which UNITED SIKHS will be pursuing for other ID cases through the UN Human Rights Committee, as the Committee is not bound by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights. Additionally, the UN Human Rights Committee has traditionally been much more receptive to cases of religious discrimination than the Strasburg Court. We hope that tendency will continue.": Stephen Grosz, UNITED SIKHS London based lawyer.
<< Jean-Paul Costa, president of the European Court of Human Rights, a staunch French secularist, who was one of the 7 judges who made the decision.

STRASBOURG, France: The European Court of Human Rights dismissed a legal challenge last week to the French law banning the wearing of the turban on ID document photos, filed by UNITED SIKHS on behalf of Shingara Mann Singh. The decision, communicated to UNITED SIKHS lawyers today, has shocked the Sikh community globally, that the Court, without requiring France to respond to Shingara Singh's legal arguments, has justified denying religious freedom on the basis of public security and protection of public order. UNITED SIKHS is filing cases before the United Nations Human Rights Committee next month on behalf of Shingara Singh and Ranjit Singh for ID photographs on their passport and residence card, respectively.

French regulations require motorists to appear "bareheaded and facing forward" in their driver's licence photographs. Shingara Singh is a 53 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. Sikhs are required to wear the dastaar (Sikh turban) at all times. Commenting on the decision, Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS Director for International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy stated, "We submitted three compelling arguments before the European Court of Human Rights: Firstly, that European Commission regulations do not require a bare head as a minimum requirement for other ID docs e.g. a passport because of the advent of biometrics; secondly, that a Sikh wears a dastaar (Sikh turban) at all times and hence is only identifiable with his turban and thirdly, that there is no evidence that the Sikh turban poses a security threat as evidenced by the fact that France allows Sikhs of other nationalities to travel through France with ID photographs displaying the turban on their driver's licences and passports."

"This decision is a travesty of justice against the Sikh community which views the Court's decision as perverse because the Court did not require a response from France before issuing a decision that deeply interferes with a Sikh's basic religious rights," she added. You may read an excerpt of the translated judgment here.

Shingara Singh's London Lawyer, Stephen Grosz of Bindmans[] LLP stated, "The Court's approach is very disappointing. Whilst it recognized that requiring a Sikh to remove his turban is an interference with his religious rights, the Court was quite wrong to justify that removal of the turban as necessary for identification. In particular, identifying a Sikh who wears a turban at all times, with an ID photograph of the Sikh without the turban just does not accord to common sense. The issue is serious enough to demand the French government to justify this restriction, which the Court did not."

Commenting on the upcoming filings on behalf of Shingara Singh and Ranjit Singh in regard to the denial of the renewal of their passport and residence card unless they remove their turban for their ID photographs, Mr. Grosz commented, "This decision will not legally affect the fight which UNITED SIKHS will be pursuing through the UN Human Rights Committee, as the Committee is not bound by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights. Additionally, the UN Human Rights Committee has traditionally been much more receptive to cases of religious discrimination than the Strasburg Court. We hope this tendency will continue."


Comments from Sikh leaders on this judgment

Chain Singh, President of Bobigny Gurdwara, the largest Sikh place of worship in France: "We are living under duress under French law. Our children who are citizens of France cannot get education with their identity intact. What's our future in France? We are deeply shocked. Our future is in the hands of the Sikh Qaum (community) now more than ever. The Sikh Qaum has to now decide the future of Sikhs globally.

Gurdial Singh, who has been in the forefront of the Right to Turban campaign in France said, "This has come as a rude shock to us. We thought that we would get justice in the European court. This decision is a violation of religious freedom. This is the start of European fundamentalism. But I have full faith that the Guru will defend the Turban, if he wants us to continue wearing his turban. We are the foot-soldiers; the Guru is the general and will give us victory eventually".

Raghbir Singh: Member of Bobigny Gurdwara: This is shocking news. We had great hopes from the European Court, which has been crushed by this decision. This shows that the European Court is partial towards the French Government.

Kashmir Singh, a member of the French Sikh community: I am shocked to hear this! On the one hand President Sarkozy said on his visit to India that the turban is not banned in France and that Sikhs are free to practise their religion. But where is the freedom after today's decision?

Dr. Pritpal Singh, Coordinator, American Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee "This judgment is a rude shock. They have cut us out from the tree of justice completely"

Gurbax Singh Malhi, MP, Canada: "Sikhs should globally decide what the way forward should be. Sikhs are peace-loving hardworking and their turban should not be perceived as a security threat.

Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) speaking from Southampton said: 'Whilst the decision by the European Court of Human Rights is hugely disappointing Sikhs will continue to challenge this discrimination. We will continue to exert political pressure so the Sikh identity is properly protected throughout Europe. The new pan-European credit card-style driving licence will begin in 2013 and we have in the past been given assurances by certain Members of the European Parliament (MEP) that photographs of Sikhs whilst wearing their turbans will be allowed for the new driving licence. In light of the Court's decision we will have to maintain pressure on the MEPs on this issue.

Seriously disappointed by the decision, Shingara Singh commented, "If we can't get justice from the European Court of Human Rights, who else can we expect justice from in Europe? We pin our hopes now on the UN Human Rights Committee before which my passport case will be filed next month. I am shocked that the European

Shingara Singh

Human Rights Court didn't require France to respond to the submissions made by my lawyers who had argued why my turban is not a security threat." Commenting further on the issue, he stated, "My business, my personal life are all affected. I now have no passport, no driving licence and my old-style ID card is not being accepted by my bank, which has refused to give me a loan because I lack valid identification. The Court's judgment is oppression against the Sikh community because a Sikh is mandated by his faith to wear a turban at all times. The Court clearly has not recognised what the turban means to a Sikh. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the Sikh mini-Parliament, has a duty to launch a global awareness campaign about Sikhs. Equally, the Punjab State Government should intervene in this matter."

Kuldip Singh, UNITED SIKHS president said, "The Sikh community, small but significant, has found itself to be at the brunt of security laws since 9/11. We have and will continue to fight the injustice faced by Sikhs and other minorities who are being denied religious freedom while the world grapples with its insecurity."

You may read a previous UNITED SIKHS' press release on the Right to Turban campaign at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-01-07-2008-00.htm

Issued By:
Jaspreet Singh
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy


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