The Council of Europe has withdrawn images from a social media campaign promoting diversity among women and their freedom to wear the hijab.
Posters featuring young women wearing Islamic headscarves were removed from Twitter just days after the project’s launch.
The campaign has prompted a strong backlash from senior French politicians over secular values.
The continent’s top human rights body confirmed that the social media posts had been removed while they “reflect on a better presentation.”
But the Council did not confirm that the decision to withdraw the campaign elements was a direct result of French criticism.
Some Muslim women have criticised the response in France, saying it showed a lack of respect for the right of women to choose what to wear.
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The Council of Europe says the “Freedom in the hijab” project aimed to celebrate Europe’s diversity and inclusivity.
The project was launched last week by the Strasbourg-based human rights organisation through their Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Programme.
The campaign was also co-financed by the European Union, which is distinct from the 47-country body.
Social media posts featured split images of young women, with one side of their face wearing an Islamic headscarf, and the other not. Messages alongside the videos and images read, “beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab.”
“How boring would the world be if everyone looked the same?” another slogan read.
The campaign initially went relatively unnoticed, but after a few days, the project generated a major backlash in France among politicians.
Secularism and symbols of Islam have generated debate in the French parliament for months, ahead of the country’s presidential election in 2022.
In 2011, France became the first European country to ban full-face Islamic veils in public places.
On Wednesday, the French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said the Council of Europe campaign went against “common sense.”
Speaking to reporters after a Council of Ministers meeting, Attal said that Paris did not agree with the “identity-based approach.”
“[This is] opposite to the freedom of belief that France defends in all European and international forums,” Attal said.
“We can consider that this campaign was made in spite of common sense, because we must not confuse religious freedom with the promotion, de facto, of a religious sign.”
Marine Le Pen, a presidential candidate for the far-right Rassemblement National party, had earlier described the campaign as “scandalous and indecent.”
“It is when women remove the veil that they become free, not the other way round,” Le Pen said on Twitter.
The former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier — another right-wing presidential candidate — also called for the campaign to be “withdrawn.”
“The veil is not an instrument of freedom,” Barnier said in an interview with France 2 television.
“It is one thing to point out that women are free to wear the hijab … to say that freedom is in the hijab is another,” Rossignol tweeted.
Although the social media posts were removed following political condemnation in France, the Council of Europe did not confirm there was any link.
In a statement to Euronews, a spokesperson confirmed that the campaign was part of a joint project with the EU.
The project aimed to “raise awareness for the need to respect diversity and inclusion, and to combat hate speech of all kinds,” the spokesperson said.
“The tweets reflected statements made by individual participants in one of the project workshops, and do not represent the views of the Council of Europe or its Secretary-General [Marija Pejčinović Burić].”
“We have taken down these tweet messages while we reflect on a better presentation of this project.”
The European Commission, which has contributed €340,000 euros to the overall project, has also distanced itself from the campaign images.
A spokesperson said on Wednesday that Brussels “has not validated” the controversial images and called for “other actions” to be considered in tackling hate speech.
“Our position is extremely clear: women must be able to wear what they want, according to the laws of the country where they live,” a statement added.