The co-founder of Belgium's Islam Party has been given a suspended six-month jail term for gender discrimination.
Redouane Ahrouch appeared on Belgian television channel RTL-TVI for a political debate but allegedly refused to make eye contact with journalist Emmanuelle Praet. Ahrouch also reportedly refused to shake hands with Praet because she was a woman and would not let a female make-up artist prepare him before the show.
Praet filed a criminal complaint against him. A Brussels court ruled his behaviour constituted gender discrimination and ordered him to pay €5,000 in compensation to the TV journalist. He was also given a six-month suspended jail term.
Ahrouch, 49, told Euronews the case had turned his life into a nightmare.
“They took my job, I was a bus driver for 25 years," he said. "They took my political life. It's a conspiracy against me. They are doing everything to ensure I don't get into politics again. They said I don't follow 'Belgian democratic values'. I couldn't find any lawyer who wanted to defend me at the tribunal. Even my family lawyer left me alone.
"Even now people are continuing to attack me because of what I said or how I behaved. I am sure if it continues like that I will be imprisoned because they don't want me.
"İt is very hard for me to find a job because of my record. I am sure Belgium will have big problems like 'gilets jaunes' in the future because they don't allow Muslim people to live as they want.”
Marc Uyttendaele, of the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men, who represented Praet, hailed the court ruling as a victory and brushed off Ahrouch's claims of it being framed as a conspiracy.
“The decision made us happy," he said. "It's a very important decision for our democracy. We can not tolerate discrimination against women. It's an important step to protect equality between women and men. In a democratic society you cannot oppose a woman doing make-up, you cannot refuse to look at a woman's face. It is a crime."
The lawyer added Ahrouch was well aware of the legal proceedings and that he could have defended himself with different lawyers.
"But he preferred to stand alone in court," said Uyttendaele.
The Islam Party, which was established in 2012, received 4% votes in its first election. The party won municipal council seats in the municipalities of Brussels, Anderlecht and Molenbeek. The party was embroiled in a controversy when it asked for separate seats for men and women on buses.