Mass raids after Paris attacks spark civil rights fears

France’s three-month emergency laws could see widespread abuse of civil liberties, rights groups warn.

A policeman stands guard outside the Le Carillon restaurant the morning after a series of deadly attacks in Paris
France's state of emergency will last for at least three months after an extension suggested by the president and prime minister [Christian Hartman/Reuters]

A surge in arrests, house arrests and raids on homes and private property in the wake of the Paris attacks – including at mosques and Muslim-owned businesses – has raised alarm among rights organisations that France’s extended state of emergency could curb civil liberties.

Under emergency powers enacted following the wave of attacks in the French capital on November 13, which killed 130 people and injured hundreds more, security forces are no longer required to attain judicial approval for arrests and raids when investigating an “imminent threat”.

Large public gatherings, including protests, are also banned under the emergency powers.

During the first three days after emergency law was put into effect, 414 homes were searched, 29 people were arrested and 118 were placed under house arrest, according to a Ministry of Interior press release published on Wednesday.

The three-month long emergency powers, extended from the usual 12 days after a vote of approval by the Senate, are supposed to expire when exceptional circumstances no longer apply.

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“Emergency powers are only supposed to be used in relation to an imminent threat,” John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme, told Al Jazeera.

He explained that “anyone who [security forces or intelligence services] had a file on was re-detained, re-questioned and re-interviewed” following the Paris attacks.

“It’s hard to judge the imminence of a threat from the outside… But it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that much more of this was preventative and speculative rather than linked to intelligence on [the attacks],” he said.

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Amnesty International and other rights groups are concerned that certain measures “will be codified into repressive laws that violate human rights”, Dalhuisen said.

According to Dalhuisen, many arrests since the Paris attacks were carried out for “justifying terrorism”, under a law that could be interpreted loosely and implemented broadly in order to arrest people with controversial opinions. 

“After and since the Charlie Hebdo attacks, there were a range of arrests and some prosecutions under a law against apologising for terrorism,” he said. 

Among the arrests, an 18-year-old man will face court on December 10 for justifying terrorism on Twitter, according to L’Express.

According to another article, by the French commercial radio station RTL, a 32-year-old man was sentenced to one year in prison this week for justifying terrorism, a charge he denies.

As the arrests and raids increased over the past 10 days, Yasser Louati, spokesman for the Collective Against Islamophobia (CCIF) in France, said the number of attacks on Muslims also rose sharply.

He said that between November 14 and 19, there were at least 26 violent incidents towards Muslims across the country and that he has been “inundated” with calls about “retaliatory” attacks each day.

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There are around five million Muslims among France’s population of 60 million.

Louati said there has been at least 793 police raids since November 13 and that many people have been injured.

“The most shocking thing was that several mosques were raided at night and thrashed by police.

“We are questioning the efficiency of the attacks – is such brutality necessary for one arrest?”

In Nice, the fragment of a police bullet struck a six-year-old girl in the neck and ear, the Nice Matin local newspaper reported as it posted a video of the aftermath

In Aubervilliers, a mosque was raided at night and police pulled out the ceilings, broke the doors and threw books – including the Quran – on the floor, Louati said.

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Meanwhile, with many demanding that Muslims apologise for the deadly attacks on November 13, he said “we didn’t even have the right to feel sad about them – I’m heartbroken for the victims and their families. They were of all different backgrounds: Christians, Muslims, Jews, black and white”.

“France has declared a war on terrorism, but they chose the wrong enemy. Muslims are the first victims of terrorism throughout the world,” he said.

Along with the emergency provisions in place for three months, President Francois Hollande last week called for additional “constitutional amendments”, saying France is in “a state of siege”.


Among those amendments are measures which include revoking the citizenship of convicted “terrorists” who carry dual nationalities and expelling foreigners deemed a “threat” by intelligence services.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, speaking on the broader impact of government surveillance – a measure Hollande said would increase following the events of November 13 – urged caution about preventing the availability of strong encryption services. 

“We look to our leaders not for fearmongering but for cool-headed assessments of what measures are necessary and proportionate for protection,” said HRW’s General Counsel Dinah PoKempner.

“In the coming weeks, [we] expect many proposals worldwide to curtail rights and expand surveillance in the name of counterterrorism,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera