Muslim woman’s appeal to testify in court while wearing niqab has been dismissed

AMISOM Public Information/Flickr (Public Domain)

The dismissal does not set a precedent for Muslim women’s clothing in court.

A Muslim woman who appealed an Australian court’s decision that didn’t allow her to testify against police while wearing her niqab has had her case dismissed.

According to BuzzFeed News, Moutia Elzahed said she suffered a miscarriage of justice when District Court Judge Audrey Balla refused to let her testify with her face covered. Though Balla had given Elzahed alternatives for testifying that required her face to be shown, she declined and never took the stand during her 2016 trial.

In 2014, Elzahed, her husband Hamdi Alqudsi, and two sons sued Australia’s state and federal police over a raid of their Sydney home for a terrorism-related search warrant. Elzahed said that during the raid, police broke open her door and, while alone with her in her bedroom, assaulted her. (In 2016, Alqudsi was sentenced to eight years in jail for helping young Australians travel to Syria to fight alongside extremist groups in 2013, including ISIS.)

At the time of the 2016 trial, Judge Balla had given Elzahed two alternatives to testifying wearing her niqab, clothing which covers every part of the body and face except for the eyes. Elzahed could either testify with her face uncovered via video transmission so she couldn’t see the people who saw her face, or she could testify in closed court with just Balla and the lawyers present.

Balla ruled that Elzahed could only testify with her face uncovered, saying she needed to “balance” Elzahed’s religious beliefs with an assessment of her credibility in court, which involved needing to see her face and demeanor. Elzahed ended up losing the case and was ordered to pay $250,000 to the police.

In a decision announced Friday morning, three judges of the New South Wales Court of Appeal said Balla didn’t do anything wrong by not allowing Elzahed to testify while wearing a niqab. The panel of judges said Balla was fair to all parties, and that seeing Elzahed’s face during a testimony had the capability of affecting the court’s decision to either accept the evidence put forth by the police or the evidence from Elzahed.

The judges also stressed that the dismissal of Elzahed’s appeal shouldn’t be considered a precedent ruling on alternative methods of testimony nor what Muslim women or women from other religions wear in court.

Earlier this month, Elzahed was convicted of disrespectful behavior in court for failing to stand for Balla in 2016. At the time she said she only stood for Allah, though the judge found no evidence that her refusal to stand was acted out in genuine religious belief. According to the Australian Associated Press, Elzahed “gave the Isis one-finger salute” after the decision.

Samantha Grasso

Samantha Grasso

Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.