Geneva: Muslim councillor 'forced to sit out council meeting because of headscarf'

The Local Switzerland
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Geneva: Muslim councillor 'forced to sit out council meeting because of headscarf'
Sabine Tiguemounine chose to sit out the meeting rather than disrupt proceedings. Photo:

In an early test for Geneva's controversial new secularism law, a Muslim councillor on Tuesday chose to sit in the public gallery during a recent council meeting rather than obey the new legislation by removing her headscarf so that she could take part in the session.


The move by Sabine Tiguemounine, a councillor with the Greens for the Geneva municipality of Meyrin, came just days after Geneva’s new cantonal secularism law came into force on March 9th.

The law was adopted after 55 percent of voters in the canton backed its introduction in a referendum in February.

Under the new law – which aims to more clearly define the limits of religion in the public sphere, but which has been criticised by Greens, feminist organisations, unions and Muslim groups – elected representatives in Geneva are banned from displaying religious symbols including headscarves when taking part in plenary council sessions or during other official acts when they are in public view.

Read also: Losing my religion - what new stats say about faith in Switzerland

But as Geneva daily Tribune de Genève reported, Tiguemounine chose not to remove her headscarf for Tuesday's council meeting which meant she could not vote during the session. 

The Greens have already lodged an appeal against the relevant article of the new law, but a decision on whether to suspend it while the matter is appealed won’t be taken until March 22nd.

The head of the Greens in Meyrin, Maurice Amato, said the party respected the law and the institutions but was appealing the article in the new law because it violated the Swiss constitution. Under the Swiss constitution, the right to freedom of religion and conscience is guaranteed.

Amato also said the fact that his colleague had been forced to sit out the council meeting was “in violation of the popular verdict” which had seen Tiguemounine voted into office in 2015.

Meanwhile, in comments to state broadcaster RTS, Tiguemounine said it was absurd she had “the right to work behind in commissions behind closed doors out of public view but not the right to vote in a plenary assembly”.

Read also: Swiss region of St Gallen overwhelmingly votes for burqa ban



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