A 27-year-old woman has been sentenced to 18 months in prison following an incident in a police station after her arrest for refusing to take off her niqab.
Stephanie Djato was arrested on 31 May 2012 at a bus stop in the Brussels borough of Jette. She had been asked to remove her niqab — a cloth face covering that forms part of the hijab worn by some Muslim women — in accordance with Belgian law, but refused.
Ms. Djato resisted arrest but was eventually taken to a police station. On the way there she continued to put up resistance, and head-butted one of the female police officers.
On arrival at the police station she continued acting aggressively, and as the situation deteriorated further still two women police officers were injured and Ms. Djato was taken to hospital.
Dutch newspaper, Het Laatste Nieuws, reports the court today found Ms. Djato solely responsible for the fracas, handing down a prison sentence of 18 months and a 900 euros fine. She was also ordered to pay compensation to the police officers she attacked, with most going to the one who sustained the headbutt.
The Belgian law that effectively bans the niqab was passed by Parliament in late April 2010. In fact it bans “attire and clothing masking the face in such a way that it impairs them to be recognisable”. The penalty breaching the law is rather less serious than the sentence handed out to Ms. Djato for her violent reaction.
The law exists explicitly for security reasons and makes no direct reference to the niqab. Nevertheless it prompted anger from the Islamist community in Belgium and beyond, especially following Ms. Djato’s arrest.
Shariah4Belgium, a Mulsim fundamentalist group that has since been banned, called for protests in her support which then descended into riots that rumbled on for several days. In addition two police officers were stabbed in a Brussels Metro Station by a French Islamist who travelled from Paris in order to launch the attack in protest against Belgian government policy towards Muslims.
Ms. Djato did not attend her trial, but the court has now ordered her immediate arrest.