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European Court Upholds Belgian Niqab Ban

FILE - Selma, a 22 year old woman, wears the niqab as she sits in a park in Brussels, April 22, 2010.

A top European court upheld Belgium's ban on full-face veils Tuesday.

The European Court of Human Rights sided with the Belgian government in a case brought by two Muslim women who said the law was discriminatory and breached religious freedom.

The court in Strasbourg, France found that the 2011 law was "necessary in a democratic society" and did not disproportionately discriminate against Muslims.

In a statement, the court said a country should also be given a "wide margin of appreciation in deciding whether and to what extent a limitation of the right to manifest one's religion or beliefs was 'necessary'".

The Belgian law prohibits appearing in public "with a face masked or hidden, in whole or in part, in such a way as to be unidentifiable". Violations result in fines and up to seven days in jail.

The case was brought by Samia Belcacemi and Yamina Oussar, who both said they chose to wear a niqab of their own free will. Belcacemi told the court that she continued to wear the veil for a while after the ban was implemented, but stopped for fear of being fined. Oussar said she had decided to stay at home.

The European Court of Human Rights upheld a similar ban on full-face veils in France in 2014.