Up to 1,000 people joined the silent protest in Argenteuil, near Paris, to denounce “increasing Islamophobia” in France.
Organisers accuse news media and politicians of playing down the extent of anti-Muslim prejudice in the country.
The rally was a response to two attacks on young women in the space of three weeks:
- On 20 May 17-year-old Rabia says she was attacked by “skinheads” who knocked her to the ground while calling her a “dirty Arab” and a “dirty Muslim”, leaving her with bruises on the mouth, face and elbow;
- On 13 June 21-year-old Leila O, who was four months pregnant, says she was attacked by two men who tore off her veil, cut off some of her hair and hit her several times, at least once in the stomach - she has since lost her baby, although police say a link with the assault has yet to be proved.
Two days before the alleged attack on Leila O several dozen people clashed with police officers who were carrying out an identity check on a woman wearing total Muslim cover.
Wearing total cover in public has been illegal in France since President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government passed a ban on face-covering garments in 2011 and other attacks on women wearing cover have taken place.
“Islamophobia exists in France, it kills,” protest spokesperson Kamel Raskallah told reporters on Saturday.
Police have opened inquiries into both assaults but, according to Rabia’s lawyer, Hosni Maati, the “discriminatory nature” of the attacks was not included in the charge sheet.
Rabia claims that police asked her not to tell the local community about the attack she had suffered for fear of sparking off riots and initial press coverage of the second assault cited investigators’ “reticences” about the victim’s account.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls has sent a letter of support to both women and Leila O and her husband were invited to the ministry on Thursday, with Rabia represented by her lawyer.