CANNES, France—Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, a Muslim American journalist and activist who runs the MuslimGirl.com website, is taking legal action against French police after they allegedly forced her to remove her head scarf when she arrived in Nice on her way to judge the Glass Lions in Cannes.
Al-Khatahtbeh described the incident, which she said happened Friday, in a lengthy post on Facebook. On Monday, she spoke about it with Adweek at the Palais in Cannes after a press conference revealing the Glass Lion winners to journalists.
The incident began, she said, when police refused to stamp her passport until she removed her head scarf. “I am wearing my head scarf in my passport photo, so there was no security issue. The only laws that allow police officers to remove a head scarf is if it obstructs your face,” she said.
She said she was taken to an isolation room at the Nice airport, where the alleged harassment continued.
“He kept saying, ‘This is France. You have to show me your hair,’ ” Al-Khatahtbeh said of the male officer. “He kept on saying things that were borderline sexual harassment. ‘I want to see your hair, I want to see your hair.’ He said, ‘This is the law here.’ Which I knew it wasn’t.”
Police allegedly threatened to send her back to New York, so she eventually agreed to remove her head scarf in front of a female police officer. She called it “very dehumanizing.”
The incident got worse, she added, when she asked the male police officer for his name and identification number. “He got extremely hostile, extremely aggressive,” she said. “He said, ‘You’re taking down my information? I’m going to take down yours. Give me your passport right now.’ ”
Al-Khatahtbeh said the officer also called her a “trouble-maker” and that he and his fellow officers “taunted me the entire time.” Eventually, she claims she was told: “You have two choices. Either you’re going back to New York right now, or you’re going to keep your mouth shut and I’ll let you go into France.”
Al-Khatahtbeh said she has obtained a lawyer in France and is filing legal action. Adweek’s calls to the French ministry overseeing the airport police were not immediately returned.
Al-Khatahtbeh acknowledged the irony of being harassed while on her way to judge the Glass Lions. “It’s the only award at this festival that measures social impact, that measures gender equality, that seeks to amplify stories that are pushing against that status quo, that seeks to fight for equality for all of us,” she said. “Without a doubt the justice I experienced is because I’m a woman, and because I’m a Muslim woman. There’s no other reason. It’s quite sad. But it really motivated and informed my decision making on this jury to make sure we were amplifying those narratives, and that we were using our power to empower those voices that are constantly silenced.”
The Glass Lion winners will be announced Monday night at an award ceremony in the Palais.