Paris police have detained two women wearing Islamic veils at a protest on the first day of France’s ban on the face coverings.
The ban makes France the first country in the world to forbid the veils anywhere in public. About a dozen people, including three women wearing veils, staged a protest in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris on Monday, and two women were taken away in a van.
A police officer on the site said at least one of the women was detained because the protest was not authorised and the protesters refused to disperse.
It is unclear whether she was also fined. Two male colleagues of the women were also detained. France’s ban on face veils went into force on Monday, and anyone wearing the niqab or burqa in public could now face a fine of €150, or lessons in French citizenship.
The centre-right government, which passed the law in October, has rolled out a public relations campaign to explain the ban and the rules of its application that includes posters, pamphlets and a government-hosted website.
Guidelines spelled out in the pamphlet forbid police from asking women to remove their burqa in the street. They will instead be escorted to a police station and asked to remove the veil there for identification.
Widely criticised by Muslims abroad as impinging on their religious freedom, the law has provoked a limited backlash in France where a strict separation of church and state is seen as central to maintaining a peaceful civil society.
France has 5 million Muslims, but fewer than 2,000 women are believed to wear a face veil. Many Muslim leaders have said they support neither the veil nor the law banning it.