Top human rights body pulls anti-hate speech campaign after France protests hijab


The Council of Europe on Tuesday pulled visuals saying “freedom is in hijab” from an anti-discrimination campaign, after a backlash from France.

One ad, published the previous week, showed a split image of two women, one wearing a hijab and the other not, alongside the slogan: “Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab.”

A Council of Europe spokesperson said in a statement: “These tweets have been deleted and we’re going to think about a better presentation for the project.”

The poster was part of an anti-hate speech campaign led by the inclusion and anti-discrimination division of the Council of Europe, the 47-country human rights organization that is distinct from the European Union — although it is partly funded by the European Commission.

The wording of the campaign “reflected individual statements from people who took part in one of the project’s workshops, and doesn’t reflect the position of the Council of Europe or its secretary-general [Marija Pejčinović Burić],” the statement reads.

The picture started making the rounds on French social media on Tuesday, with the country’s political class, from the center left to the far right, up in arms.

The split image “deeply shocked me,” Secretary of State for Youth Sarah El Haïry said on Tuesday evening to LCI. “It is the opposite of the values France is standing up for … France made its very strong disapproval of the campaign clear, which is why it was pulled today.” The statement from the Council of Europe did not specify whether the campaign was pulled because of the French government’s protests.

“Reminding that women are free to wear the hijab is one thing,” Socialist Senator Laurence Rossignol said, “but saying freedom is in hijab is another. It’s promoting it. Is this the role of the Council of Europe?”

Presidential contenders jumped into the fray as well. “It’s when women take their veil off that they become free, not the other way around,” far-right candidate Marine Le Pen tweeted. Conservative primary candidate Valérie Pécresse echoed the statement, saying the headscarf is “not a symbol of freedom but of submission.” Eric Zemmour, a far-right pundit who has not announced his candidacy but is running a presidential campaign de facto, was one of the firsts to comment on the visuals. Zemmour was convicted in 2018 for hate speech on the basis of religion after he said France “has been invaded for the past 30 years” by Muslims.





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