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Florida Police Criticised for Forcing Muslim Woman to Remove Hijab Following Arrest

Florida Police Criticised for Forcing Muslim Woman to Remove Hijab Following Arrest

Muslim civil rights groups have criticised Miami police after a Muslim woman arrested during a Black Lives Matter protest was forced to remove her hijab for a booking photo. Advocates said that the move was a “severe violation of religious freedoms,” and said that the woman’s hijab was not returned to her for several hours.

A petition calling for justice for the woman, Alaa Massri, has, so far, gathered more than 90,000 signatures.

Massri was arrested during a Black Lives Matter rally

According to the petition organised for her, Alaa Massri, an 18-year-old woman who was part of a Black Lives Matter protest, was arrested alongside six other people. The police reportedly arrested them on grounds of vandalism after the group allegedly started spray-painting the statues of Christopher Columbus and Juan Ponce de León with slogans such as “BLM” and “George Floyd”.

According to the petition, however, Massri was the medic of the group and rushed to help one of the protesters that she saw was hit by a police vehicle. She alleges that she was surrounded by six-to-eight cops. When trying to walk away, Massri was arrested and charged with battery, resisting an officer with violence, and disorderly conduct. Witnesses in the area say that Massri was not acting in a disorderly fashion.

Massri was then taken to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Centre in Miami where her hijab was taken for a booking photo. It was not returned to her for several hours while she was held. Meanwhile, the photo of her without the hijab was broadcasted to national television and numerous media outlets.

“A severe violation of religious freedoms”

According to Omar Saleh, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, removing religious head coverings during booking procedures is a “severe violation of religious freedoms.” Removing religious head coverings – whether it is a headscarf, yarmulke, turban or any other item – during booking procedures violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The only exceptions are officials can demonstrate that removing them is necessary to achieve a compelling government interest.

Massri’s petition alleges that in addition to removing her hijab, the police also violated her Constitutional rights by arresting her when she was not inciting; arrested her without reading her rights. The petition is therefore calling for all charges to be dropped, the mugshot taken down and the police officers identified in the crime to be investigated.

However, the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department said that it makes accommodations for people who wear religious head coverings. Police officials also added that this is not a case of “police-versus-protesters” and defended the arrest of those who they say were engaged in vandalism.

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