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Balaclava-Wearing Protesters Arrested in France

Balaclava-Wearing Protesters Arrested in France

Pussy Riot members Maria AlyokhinaYekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have been sentenced to two years in a prison colony on charges of “hooliganism” motivated by religious hatred. In the southern French city of Marseilles, seven people at a solidarity protest were arrested  last Friday for wearing face masks like the colorful balaclavas that have become the signature feature of the Russian feminist punk band.

About thirty people were at a peaceful protest in front of the Russian embassy in Marseilles on August 17. As La Provence reports, police arrested seven for wearing face masks, on the grounds that doing so is in violation of a law passed in April in France that bans the wearing of face-coverings in public.

The law was introduced in 2011 under former President Nicolas Sarkozy to prevent women from wearing the niqab, or full-faced veil, in public. It was officially dubbed a law forbidding the wearing of face-coverings in public to avoid singling out Muslims. The law does include exemptions for motorcycle helmets and sports equipment such as fencing masks and for those in parades, celebrations or places of worship, says Agence France-Presse (via Raw Story).

Among those arrested in Marseille were poets, a book editor, and a former culture official, Christian Poitevin. They removed their masks at the police’ request but then — to shouts of “absurd,” “ridiculous” and “surreal” — they were put into a riot van which was driven, sirens blaring, to a police station. The protesters face a €150 fine, a citizenship course, or both.

“We came here to defend freedom of expression in Russia and we find ourselves stopped by French police,” said one protester, a senior citizen. Poitevin also commented that “the authorities wanted to give assurances to the Russians.”

France, like the US and other Western countries, has said that the sentences given to the three Pussy Riot members are “disproportionate.”

Apparently, though, France is not the only Western country that has a problem with people covering their faces in public. A New York Times article about a solidarity protest for Pussy Riot in New York City cited an organizer who warned that “balaclavas were illegal in New York.” Slate found out that that is not exactly the case: You can wear a ski mask in Manhattan (not that anyone needed to with last winter’s mild temperatures). But under New York Penal Law 240.35(4),

…it is illegal to congregate in public with two or more people while each wearing a mask or any face covering which disguises your identity. The law has existed since 1845, when tenant farmers, in response to a lowering of wheat prices, dressed up as “Indians” and covered their faces with masks in order to attack the police anonymously. There are exceptions for masquerades and other entertainment events that are deemed appropriate by the city (such as Halloween).

Slate also found out that this law has been recently invoked, ”at the peak of the Occupy Wall Street protests last fall” and also back in 1999, when KKK members were not allowed to wear “their signature attire” during a rally in Manhattan.

Doesn’t it seem a bit ironic that the one place where it is not illegal to wear a balaclava or face covering in public is, indeed, Russia?

 

Related Care2 Coverage

Garry Kasparov Faces Jail Over Pussy Riot Protest (Video)

Canada Bans Niqab and Burka at Citizenship Oath

France Bans Niqab, Violence Against Muslim Women Rises

 

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Photo of a protest for Pussy Riot in Paris by cyberien 94

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76 comments

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11:52AM PDT on Aug 25, 2012

Many US states have anti face covering laws and ordinances. Big deal!

7:46PM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

It's OK if your Muslim to cover your face and of course it's OK if your police or any other "official" and don't want to be identified for the crimes you commit but heaven forbid a peaceful protester wear a face mask . Those that think this is justified in a any way should be immediately imprisoned . Personally I'd be a lot harsher on them.

6:51PM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

thanks

6:42AM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

Thanks for the comments Sam, I'm better informed thanks to your comments

3:42AM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

.../... Darn it, my post appears complete then gets cut short later on (twice) must be too long, so here's the end, with apologies for the double incomplete posts below.
**Continued reply to Helena B.:
I know no more than you how many terrorists or troubleseekers have been arrested, but certainly numbers of them are. Yes, innocent people also get hauled in, it's one of the risks you accept if you join a protest march, but if you're innocent you should soon be cleared and released.
The growing rate of delinquence and crime everywhere is sadly a sign of present times. Where CCTV cameras are installed they have been shown to be efficient in reducing crime and street attacks and enable rapid police intervention when they do occur. I for one am happy to have them.
Do you know any elderly people, not necessarily female, who are afraid to walk past groups of hoodies? Because they can't see their faces and they worry that if they're hiding then it's not for a good reason. You expect hoods outside in Winter, but not groups of hooded individuals lounging against walls or swaggering around building lobbies in the Summer.
**Catherine G. I don't think we have the wrong impression, we know this particular protest was in support of the Russians and that's why they wore balaclavas in this case, but if you live in France you must respect its laws, just as you would anywhere. The balaclavas were not an essential item to the French protest.

3:19AM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

Helena B. wrote: "Sam M. These laws were put in place to make sure that we cannot be free of beng watched by CCTV and the authorities, to terrorise us, ironically. Haven't heard of many terrorists being arrested by this law, but funnily enough to arrest people at democratic protests.
These laws are being used to arrest people at democratic protests. People who wear them in the main do so so that they have annonymity at protests rather than surveillance cameras using face recognition technology to record who is present.
And exactly how many terrorists have actually been arrested using this law?
Protect us? My cynical self is very suspicious that they are used to put people off legitimate protest."

I don't agree, Helena B. The laws are primarily to protect the public from thieves and terrorists etc who disguise themselves using accepted head coverings such as helmets.
Protesters should have the courage of their opinions and leave their faces uncovered. Using a veil of anonymity reduces their impact and it also means that peaceful protests can be, and often are, infiltrated by gangs looking to cause trouble, whose violence reflects on all those participating. These troublemakers cannot be recognized because their faces are hidden, nor distinguished from peaceful protesters if the latter also hide their faces.
Why cover your face if your reason for protesting is legitimate and honest?
I know no more than you how many terrorists or troubleseekers have been arrested, but

2:12AM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

Helena B. wrote: "Sam M. These laws were put in place to make sure that we cannot be free of beng watched by CCTV and the authorities, to terrorise us, ironically. Haven't heard of many terrorists being arrested by this law, but funnily enough to arrest people at democratic protests.
These laws are being used to arrest people at democratic protests. People who wear them in the main do so so that they have annonymity at protests rather than surveillance cameras using face recognition technology to record who is present.
And exactly how many terrorists have actually been arrested using this law?
Protect us? My cynical self is very suspicious that they are used to put people off legitimate protest."

I don't agree, Helena B. The laws are primarily to protect the public from thieves and terrorists etc who disguise themselves using accepted head coverings such as helmets.
Protesters should have the courage of their opinions and leave their faces uncovered. Using a veil of anonymity reduces their impact and it also means that peaceful protests can be, and often are, infiltrated by gangs looking to cause trouble, whose violence reflects on all those participating. These troublemakers cannot be recognized because their faces are hidden, nor distinguished from peaceful protesters if the latter also hide their faces.
Why cover your face if your reason for protesting is legitimate and honest?
I know no more than you how many terrorists or troubleseekers have been arrested, but

2:08AM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

Sad...........thanks for keeping us informed!

1:49AM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

m/

1:44AM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

Jailing these 3 young mothers is a viscious exhibition of unbridled power. It must mean that Putin is to be regarded as in the same category as the worst of the czar's secret police. What a shame as we were hoping that Russia was changing for the better.

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