Authorities in the French Riviera city of Nice have halted a wedding between a 21-year-old Muslim woman and her 27-year-old fiancé, amid concerns the young woman was coerced into the marriage and forced to radicalize.
The city's public prosecutor announced Monday that city officials would not perform the marriage ceremony, pending a legal investigation. If investigators find evidence proving a lack of consent, the marriage will be banned.
The man, who is known to authorities, is currently subject to a travel ban over fears he is planning to join militants fighting in Syria.
The town's center-right mayor, Christian Estrosi, said in a statement that he had opposed the wedding after being alerted to the woman's "increased radicalization over the past few months," and that he had referred the matter to the courts because of "legitimate doubts as to the genuineness of the union that was to be celebrated."
According to article 175-2 of the of the French civil code, a civil servant can refer a decision on a proposed marriage to the public prosecutor, "where there is serious circumstantial evidence" of a lack of consent.
A source close to Nice city hall told French daily Le Figaro that officials had already expressed doubts as to the "mutual consent" of the union when the young couple applied for the marriage license. The woman had appeared to be "submissive," the unnamed source said.
Estrosi declined to comment on these allegations when contacted by VICE News Tuesday.
The bridegroom was also reportedly recently convicted and received a six-month suspended sentence for the violent group assault of a Tunisian baker in Nice, whom he had accused of being a bad Muslim for selling pork products and pastries made using alcohol.
"When you consider that the future husband was sentenced, less than two months ago for a group assault on a baker whose only crime was to sell ham sandwiches and rum babas," wrote the mayor, "I think I was justified in referring the matter to the prosecutor."
Nice-based attorney and family law expert Marie-Pierre Lazard-Pourcines told VICE News that Article 175-2 is often invoked in cases of lack of consent involving minors, but that she had never heard of a case where the article had been invoked over suspected coerced radicalization.
Lazard-Pourcines added that it was fitting such a landmark case would occur in Nice given the city's highly publicized crackdown on radicalization recently.
Estrosi has become known for taking a strong position on matters of public security in recent years and has been criticized by rights groups for passing a series of measures that appeared to target the city's Muslim and North African communities.
In 2012, the mayor introduced "a marriage charter," banning excessive noise, whistling, folk music, flag-waving, and illegal parking during city hall weddings. Two years later, he issued a decree outlawing the "ostentatious waving of foreign flags" in downtown Nice during the World Cup, which did not extend to French flags.
The city's crackdown on radicalization intensified in January 2015, after three gunmen killed 17 people in a series of terror attacks in and around Paris. Towards the end of January, police in Nice stirred controversy when they questioned an 8-year-old boy and his father, after the third-grader allegedly praised the Paris attackers, saying, "I am with the terrorists."
In his statement, the mayor noted that a special unit tasked with monitoring radicalization in the city had already recorded 200 calls and responded to 30 alerts since it was launched in the fall of 2014. It was this unit, he wrote, that alerted him to the young woman's recent radicalization.
Estrosi also noted that, despite being informed by authorities that the wedding would not take place, the groom-to-be and his family showed up at city hall around 3.30pm on Monday with a 12-car escort, and proceeded to block access to the building.
According to the mayor, the bride-to-be — who was wearing "an outfit similar to a niqab [face veil]" — and her fiance "tried to force their way into city hall," and "ostensibly provoked law enforcement officers and civil servants" who were on duty.
According to AFP, the would-be groom's attorney has declined to comment on the proceedings until further instruction from his client.
Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @meloboucho
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