Belgian appeal court throws out French arrest warrant for imam
A Belgian appeal court on Tuesday upheld a ruling dismissing a European arrest warrant issued for a French-born Moroccan imam that Paris wants to deport over alleged hateful remarks. France's interior ministry sought in late July to deport the preacher, Hassan Iquioussen, for "inciting hate, discrimination and violence", notably against women and the Jewish community.
A Belgian appeal court on Tuesday upheld a ruling dismissing a European arrest warrant issued for a French-born Moroccan imam that Paris wants to deport over alleged hateful remarks.
France's interior ministry sought in late July to deport the preacher, Hassan Iquioussen, for "inciting hate, discrimination and violence", notably against women and the Jewish community. Iquioussen later left for Belgium. "The facts on which this arrest warrant is based do not constitute an offence under Belgian law," a spokesman for the Mons appeal court said. "It is not valid, so we will not execute it."
The Mons court upheld a ruling by a lower court that dismissed the warrant, which was issued by French authorities to try to obtain the imam's extradition from Belgium prior to his planned deportation to Morocco. Iquioussen's lawyer and rights groups have acknowledged he made "backward" comments but argue that he has never been prosecuted on such grounds and has publicly defended a practice of Islam aligned with France's secular laws.
Some rights groups say the case is part of a wider crackdown on France's Muslim minority, as President Emmanuel Macron's government tackles what it sees as broader signs of radicalisation - often non-violent - within Muslim communities. Iquioussen, 58, was born in France and his immediate family lives there, though he does not have French nationality.
He successfully challenged his initial deportation order, with a Paris administrative court ruling his deportation to Morocco would be "a serious and manifestly disproportionate interference with his right to lead a normal private and family life". Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin challenged the ruling and later in August the Conseil d'Etat, which acts as the supreme court for administrative justice in France, ruled that the deportation order was justified. Iquioussen left for Belgium in the wake of that decision.
France's interior ministry declined to comment after the Belgian appeal court's ruling. Reuters spoke to four immigration lawyers and four administrative judges who all expressed concern that the top court's decision might create a legal precedent that reduces the rights of immigrants.
One of those judges, Maguy Fullana, who is also a representative for an administrative magistrates' union, said that although the Conseil d'Etat's ruling did not change jurisprudence per se, it could influence how judges balance public order disruption with the right to a private life. "If there are other cases of imam deportation, it will be difficult to ignore the Conseil d'Etat ruling," she said. "But it will depend on each case's content."
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