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Charges dropped against hijab-clad South African officer

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Dropping charges filed against a South African army officer for wearing a headscarf known as a hijab under her military beret is not the end of the story, her lawyer insisted on Thursday, 23 January 2020.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) criminally charged Major Fatima Isaacs in June 2018 with “willful defiance and failing to obey a lawful instruction” after her superior asked her – and she disobeyed – to remove the hijab she wore under her beret.

Dismissing the charges, the army told a military court in Cape Town that it had withdrawn all charges against Isaacs provided the hijab was “a tight headscarf that does not cover her ears, and must be plain in colour.”

Isaacs, a 10-year veteran who works as a clinical forensic pathologist in the army, said she disagreed with the ruling and would appeal it.

Her lawyer Amy-Leigh Payne added: “The withdrawal of the charges is subject to her compliance with certain restrictions relating to the wearing of the headscarf.”

Her client would challenge the ruling in the country’s Equality Court over the regulations restricting the religious habit, Payne said, to establish the “constitutionality of the army’s religious dress policy” because “the policy remains in force”.

The charges against the officer surprised many in a country which takes pride in its diverse population and for having the most liberal constitution in the world.



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