Paris (GPA) – The new French terrorism law passed in the National Assembly less than 24 hours after a knife attack in Marseille.
This past Monday saw the latest in the ever-growing list of terror attacks on French soil, claimed to be committed by followers of the Islamic State (Daesh). This attack resulted in the death of two women: one aged 17 and the other 20, which was referred to by French President Emmanuel Macron as a “barbarous act.”
While Macron’s public comment may be a perfectly reasonable thing to say, there is a problem in how his feelings have played out in the actual response by the French government. This disturbing trend began way back in November of 2015, starting with the implementation of a national state of emergency in response to several suicide bombings and the attack on the Bataclan Theater.
This state of emergency has carried on ever since but has faced immense public backlash, including protests that demanded an end to what French citizens view as an illegal assertion of state authority. Besides putting French soldiers on the streets the emergency status also extended the power of the state to spy more broadly on its citizens and installed legal mechanisms to bypass judicial procedure that ensure defendants right to a fair trial.
While there may now be less French soldiers on the streets, and restrictions on movement and mass gatherings may have been lifted but it seems the worst abuses of the state of emergency now seem like they’ll continue indefinitely. These powers now seem to be on track to be cemented into law and permanently enshrine the French government with these “emergency powers.”
The policies that will be written into law include giving powers to the state such as the ability to confine suspected terrorists to their neighborhoods, close places of worship accused of preaching hate with no oversight, carry out random identity checks on citizens and search private property with minimal judicial review. The searches that will be protected under this new law are likely to look the same as they did under the state of emergency, which saw military raids of thousands of residences. The number of these paramilitary-style raids between November of 2015 and July 2016 alone was estimated to be around 3,600 – with only 400 cases resulting in house arrests and a total of 6 cases of terrorism being filed by prosecutors.
Many rights groups that were previously concerned with France’s response to terror attacks are now even more so as they see these abusive practices being codified into law. Beyond just the illegality of these new state powers, several groups have also expressed their unease at how often these laws target minorities in France.
The feelings of these human rights organizations most likely aren’t wrong, especially since there have been several cases highlighting racial profiling, including that of one man who was interrogated by counter-terror police for unknowingly being near the home belonging to an editor of the infamous satire outlet Charlie Hebdo. Even some United Nations officials have weighed in on the new laws, stating that they fear the new powers will most likely be used to target Muslims and other marginalized groups.
The latest vote on these new laws took place on Tuesday, and passing in the National Assembly by a margin of 415 to 127 and will now go to committee for the process of adding amendments. If recent legislative trends continue (combined with the possibility of more terror attacks), this committee hearing is likely to result in even more freedom for authorities by the time it comes up for the final vote in the coming weeks.
Macron is fully behind this new bill and is currently selling it as the only way to “end the state of emergency,” if only technically. The official state of emergency may end the day these new laws go into effect but its legacy will carry on and will likely be applied to more spheres of French society as Macron seeks to force his agenda on the country.