A French official has jumped to the defence of three topless sunbathers who were told to cover up by police last week after the incident caused outrage across the country.
The officers approached the women as they lay on the beach in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer on August 20 and asked them to put their bathing suit tops back on, a Facebook statement from the Pyrenees-Orientales police says.
A holidaying family nearby had asked the officers to talk to the women because they were embarrassed and there were children in the area.
“Guided by a concern of appeasement, the police asked the persons concerned if they agreed to cover their chest after explaining the meaning and origin of their approach. No municipal order forbids this practice in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer,” the statement said in translated English.
The backlash against the officers has been swift, with many French natives saying topless suntanning is part of the country’s culture.
Facebook users told Pyrenees-Orientales police they found it “staggering and shameful that police bothered themselves to please one family embarrassed by the view of one or more bare breasts,” one man wrote.
“Their job should have been to tell the complaining family that French law has allowed this practice for a long time,” a woman said.
The country’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin defended the women on Twitter, saying “freedom is a precious commodity”.
He said it was wrong to even ask the trio to cover up.
Lt Col Maddy Scheurer, spokesman for the National Gendarmerie, said the “clumsy” officers thought they were doing the right thing.
"You will always see me in uniform, but the practice of topless tanning is allowed at the beach of Sainte-Marie-la-Mer,” she said.
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