BANGKOK, Thailand -- An outraged Muslim female photographer in Thailand says "the French government is crazy" to punish women who hide their face and body underneath a burqa in public.

Demanding "liberty" for Islamic fashionistas, Ampannee Satoh, 28, has created photographs of herself posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and elsewhere in France while concealed in the enveloping cloth.

"I don't like the law in France," Ampannee said in an interview in Bangkok.

"The government rule, I don't like because I have liberty to choose a hijab or burqa or anything, because everybody has liberty," she said.

"There are those who do not understand, and who see that a burqa represents terror and lack of freedom."

She said "Muslim women are bullied" in France and their "freedom" is "stolen" by the law which went into effect on April 2011.

"The French Republic lives in a bare-headed fashion," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon declared while announcing the law.

Under the law, the public wearing of a burqa, niqab, or similar face covering is punishable by a 150-euro fine.

"If a non-Muslim woman were topless in public, I'd think it was their right to dress any way they wanted," Ampanee said.

"All women have the right to express themselves through how they dress or undress themselves."

After gaining a Bachelor's degree in photography at Rangsit University in Bangkok in 2006, she shot photos in Thailand before going to France.

In 2009 and 2010, while getting a Certificate of Fine Art Photography at L'Ecole Nationale Superieure de la Photographie in Arles, France, she created the portraits of herself wearing a burqa, to protest the ban.

"My mother had the burqas made in Pattani, in my hometown in Thailand. It is no wonder, because she fully agrees with the campaign."

Ampannee had never worn a burqa in public.

Born in Pattani, in Thailand's south, she wears a black hijab head cover -- legal in France -- which shows her face but not her hair, ears or neck.

"I took a hijab when I went to France. If I don't wear a hijab, I would feel bad.

"Maybe in the future I will wear a burqa. I can choose."

A burqa allows a woman "to protect the body" from "temptations that can cause harm, social problems and sexual abuse," Ampannee said.

"According to Islam, Muslim women must cover all parts of their bodies, except the face and palms, as a way to honor themselves and prevent themselves [succumbing to] any emotional temptations and possible problems.

"Women nowadays obviously encounter several social problems, assaults and sexual harassment. Covering themselves from these dangers is an Islamic limit, and at the same time it is Muslim women's liberty, and a positive limit," she said.

"These are the reasons behind Islamic teachings that all women must wear a hijab or burqa -- to protect themselves.

v "A burqa is just Muslim women's additional form of clothing, and it is not stated in the Koran. However, it doesn't mean it is wrong. It is, instead, good that they want to cover more parts of the body."

She insisted that most Muslim women who wear a burqa in France are not forced to drape themselves.

"I think this is their free choice to wear the burqa, it is not their brother or others telling them. It is free. It is their liberty."

She opposes Islamist societies where men force women to wear burqas, such as in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

"We can choose. Islam does not tell you" to wear a burqa or not.

"I started wearing a hijab three years ago. Now I feel honored by the people around me. I feel safe in public. In the past, I didn't wear a hijab, and my feeling was just opposite.

"If, in the future, I wear a burqa every day, that will mean I have the right to do so. It will be my choice, and it will have no negative effect on anybody."

Are Muslim women in southern Thailand forced to wear burqas?

"In Thailand? No, no. I don't think so. No, no, no. Because I live in southern Thailand, and I speak every day with women. I saw the women who wear burqa. It is OK. It is liberty for her" to choose.

In southern Thailand, 30 percent of the Muslim women wear a burqa, 30 percent wear a hijab, and 40 percent do not wear either Islamic garment, she said.

In the future, however, more women will wear burqas in the south "because it is near Malaysia, where the majority is Islam," she said.

"When I lived in Pattani, my grandmother, she wore a burqa, and sometimes I tried to wear a burqa in the past. Just in my home."

Isn't it too hot and humid in Thailand to engulf your head and torso in a claustrophobic cloth bag?

"I think it is normal for me. I think my heart is cool, so when I wear a burqa, I don't think about it being hot. Because in my heart, I think it is OK."

To create her nine best burqa photos in France, Ampannee traveled to various sites during October 2009 to February 2010, dressed herself in a burqa, and posed solo in front of scenic backdrops.

Helped by an assistant, Ampannee adjusted her digital camera on a delayed timer and photographed herself.

She wears a red burqa in front of the Eiffel Tower, a white burqa at the seashore, and a blue one with Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe in the Champs Elysees in Paris behind her.

Elsewhere in France, she poses in a yellow, a purple, and a black burqa.

Her eyes are closed in all of the photos "to remember the freedom that Muslim women might, or might not, get back."

Earlier, Ampannee shot black-and-white photographs in domestic settings in Pattani.

"Now it is very dangerous for their lives," she said, describing life in Thailand's three Muslim-majority southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

Minority ethnic Malay-Thai Islamists are waging a separatist war in the south for autonomy or independence.

More than 4,500 people have been killed on all sides since 2004 amid decades of discrimination by Buddhist-majority Thailand's government and military.

"The three provinces are parts of Thailand, too. They are not distinct. We can live together despite religious differences. That is the inspiration behind the black-and-white Muslimah (Muslim women) project in 2008."

Those black-and-white photos portray women wearing black or white burqas and hijabs.

"What I expected from it was that people would look at Muslims differently, and the image of Muslim women would become positive."

Though Ampannee sometimes uses digital cameras, she favors film because she likes the texture of the pictures it produces.

Today, Ampannee is a lecturer in fine art photography at Bangkok's Rangsit University, in the Arts and Design Faculty.

She teaches "basic photography, and how we can develop black-and-white film, and develop on paper. Also, composition for the photograph."

Emboldened by her Bangkok exhibition, she is now considering contacting galleries in France to show her burqa photos there.

"I do not regret a bit that I chose France" to attend university, she said.

"I am just disappointed with its laws."

Other women have protested against France's burqa ban, including two females who strutted through Paris wearing sexy hotpants, high heels and a black cloth -- known as a niqab -- covering their faces and exposing only their eyes.

Their popular video, titled "niqabitch," is on YouTube ( they also have an active twitter page (!/niqabitch) explaining how their "Hotpants and Niqabs: Niqabitch Stroll Through Paris" challenges the "hypocrisy" of the "absurd" and "dictating" law.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including Hello My Big Big Honey! Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are

Asia Correspondent

(Copyright 2012 Richard S Ehrlich)