France to sue student it accuses of falsely accusing principal of forcibly removing

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Paris
CNN
 — 

A French high school student is being sued by the government for falsely accusing her former principal of assaulting her after he made her remove her headscarf on school premises, the country’s prime minister said Wednesday.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said the government would “always stand with these officials, those who are on the front line faced with these breaches of secularism, these attempts of Islamist penetration in our education establishments.”

He made the comments in an interview with French broadcaster TF1.

Secularism in France, particularly involving the country’s Muslim population, Europe’s largest, has long been a flashpoint. Last year France banned the abaya – a long, robe-like garment often worn by Muslim women – despite warnings its prohibition was discriminatory.

The teacher had asked the young woman to remove her headscarf while on the premises of the Maurice Ravel Lycée school in Paris, in line with French law, which bans religious symbols from state institutions.

The student refused and “looked to intimidate” the school principal by accusing him of having physically assaulted her while removing her headscarf, Attal said.

According to CNN affiliate BFMTV, she accused the teacher of grabbing her shoulder.

The incident happened on February 28 and involved a student over the age of 18, BFMTV reported.

Attal said that her accusations were shared on social media, leading to “unacceptable” death threats against the school principal.

Two people believed to be responsible for the death threats have since been detained, the education ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

The principal was due to retire in June and, upon security advice, took early retirement following the incident, Attal said, adding that the student had also left the school.

Paris prosecutors found the young woman’s complaint to be unjustified and didn’t pursue a prosecution, Attal said, following which, the government decided to sue the girl for falsely accusing the principal.

“We mustn’t let anything slide, and I will never let anything slide on this question,” he added.

Two high-profile murders of teachers have heightened fears over the Islamist threat in schools.

A teacher was killed and several others wounded last year in a knife attack in Arras, northern France, with the suspect reportedly shouting “Allahu Akbar.” In 2020, Samuel Paty was beheaded after displaying the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons to his students during a lesson.

The country has pursued a series of controversial bans and restrictions on items of customarily Islamic dress in recent years, which have frequently drawn the ire of Muslim countries and international agencies

French President Emmanuel Macron has previously said that “religious symbols of any kind have no place” in French schools under the country’s principle of “laïcité,” which translates roughly to “secularism” in English.

France’s crackdown isn’t limited to the education sector. In 2022, lawmakers backed a ban on wearing the hijab and other “conspicuous religious symbols” in sports competitions. The amendment was proposed by the right-wing Les Républicains party, which argued the hijab could risk the safety of athletes wearing it while playing sports.

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