"Humiliation. Intimidation. Violation of human rights". These are the words used by a French Muslim woman when she took to social media to voice her outrage at what has now been described as the #BurkiniGate.

The hashtag started trending after photographs emerged on 23 August showing French policemen armed with batons and pepper spray confronting a veiled middle-aged woman on the beach in Nice and ordering her to strip off as part of a controversial ban on the burkini. In another, the police seem to watch as she removes a blue long-sleeved tunic and one of the policemen appears to take notes or give out an on-the-spot fine.

The images caused an uproar in the country, with commentators from all religious backgrounds denouncing the police action as a "violation of human rights".

Photos are 'an absolute disgrace for France'

On Twitter, Feiza Ben Mohamed, a spokeswoman for the Fédération des Musulmans du Sud, a Muslim association in southern France described the authorities' decision as "an absolute disgrace for the country. Police force a veiled woman to undress. I want to puke."

Academic Hanane Karimi, 38, who is well known among French Muslim feminists for organising female students affected by the ban on religious signs in France in 2004, said: "Politicians have so dehumanised veiled Muslim women that people have come to endorse what is happening to them (veiled women) on the beaches."

Karimi asked: "Where are the Republic's strongest defenders to denounce what is happening on French beaches?"

Another young woman, Jim Dear, who describes herself as a feminist, slammed "a country where armed men force women to undress in all impunity", adding: "WTFFrance" (an abbreviation for "what the f**k France").

Comparing French police to dictatorships

On Tuesday, in another similar incident, a mother-of-two in Cannes said she had been fined on the beach for wearing a tunic, leggings and a headscarf. In that case, the woman's ticket seen by AFP news agency said she was not wearing "an outfit respecting good morals and secularism".

Other users compared the French police to the Islamic State's religious police – often referred to as its vice squad, with Birgitte Poulsen saying: "France, once the country of liberty; now using the same dictator(ial) methods as their enemies (Islamic State)".

Using similar references, Ben Mohamed tweeted: "I am in Saint Laurent du Var, a woman has just arrived with a hijab. Suspense is at its peak. Will the Gestapo (secret police of Nazi Germany) stop her?"

Journalist Boutaina Azzabi, meanwhile, posted a series of Hasidic Jews wearing long garments on the beach and asked: "Would France be OK with the modest beachwear of Hasidic Jews? Will they ban them too? Or is this "different"?"

The shocking images come after Nice became the 15th towns to controversially ban the burkini, which covers the body and head, with authorities citing concerns about religious clothing in the wake of multiple terror attacks in the country.

The city banned clothing which "overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks".

A tribunal in Nice on 21 August ruled that the ban on the burkini imposed by by the small town of Villeneuve-Loubet was "necessary" because the burkini was "liable to offend the religious convictions or (religious) non-convictions of other users of the beach".