Aheda Zanetti (L), designer of the Burkini swimsuit, adjusts one of the swimsuits on model Salwa Elrashid at her fashion store in Sydney, August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Top French court suspends burkini ban

France’s highest administrative court has suspended a ban on the full-body swimsuits, saying it “seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms”.

The ruling on the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet, a Mediterranean seaside resort, could set a precedent for up to 30 other towns that imposed bans on their beaches, chiefly on the Riviera. The court will make a final decision on the legality of the bans later.

“The burkini was designed for freedom, flexibility and confidence. It was designed to integrate into society,” its creator, Aheda Zanetti, an Australian designer told our correspondent Lin Taylor earlier this week.

She said the French authorities had misunderstood why the burkini was created and should not turn it into a symbol of division.

The swimsuit made international headlines after the mayors of Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet and the Corsican seaside resort of Sisco among others banned it last week, arguing the burkini, which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, defies French laws on secularism.

“They have misunderstood what the burkini is all about.”

“I hope that they understand that it’s not something that symbolises anything — that anyone can wear it, that it’s not harming anything in any way,” Zanetti said, adding that anyone, no matter their religion, could wear it.

With the sun and surf an integral part of the Australian lifestyle, Zanetti designed the swimsuit in 2004 so Muslim women, who choose to

wear a head covering like the hijab, could participate in water activities and other sports.

“The burkini was designed for freedom, flexibility and confidence. It was designed to integrate into Australian society,” she said in a phone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Sydney.

A Muslim woman wears a burkini, a swimsuit that leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, on a beach in Marseille, France, August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS FRENCH LAW REQUIRES THAT THE FACES OF MINORS ARE MASKED IN PUBLICATIONS

Zanetti said she is perplexed the burkini has attracted so much attention, given its normalcy in Australia.

“Look what’s happening in Syria or in Italy,” she said, referring to the ongoing Syrian conflict and an earthquake that killed more than 70 people in Italy on Wednesday.

“I don’t understand why a piece of fabric is taking over all of these really important issues?” Lebanese-born Zanetti said.

“Why do women have to be punished for wearing something that represents freedom, and health, fitness and enjoyment?”