France state of emergency protest draws thousands

Demonstrators gather in Paris in opposition to strengthened security laws brought in after November’s attacks by ISIL.

Paris emergency laws protest Shafik Mandhai
Saturday's protest drew demonstrators as varied as anarchists and undocumented migrant workers [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Paris, France – Thousands gathered in Paris to condemn France’s continued implementation of state of emergency laws, which they described as a government “coup”.

Saturday’s protest in the French capital drew demonstrators as varied as anarchists and undocumented migrant workers, among others – all of whom shared concerns that the emergency measures unnecessarily empowered security forces.

President Francois Hollande initially declared the state of emergency on November 13, following the killing of 130 people by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL – also known as ISIS) group in attacks in Paris.

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Backed by the new powers, authorities have carried out about 3,400 raids on mosques, homes, and businesses with more than 300 people placed under house arrest.

The French government extended the state of emergency in February, saying the threat of “terrorist violence remained very high”.

Al Jazeera spoke to a number of those attending the rally on Saturday who said the government was unfairly targeting Muslims and using the pretext of preventing new attacks to crack down on dissent generally.

Leading a line of activists at the front of the protest, the Left Party’s Eric Coquerel condemned the state of emergency for having “no effect on terrorism” and posing a threat to civil liberties.

“The state of emergency cannot become permanent because it effectively means citizens giving up their rights,” Coquerel told Al Jazeera, adding that government plans to strip nationality from dual-national terrorism suspects created a tiered citizenship system.

Government policies following the attacks have drawn strong condemnation from Muslim groups, who accuse it of treating the entire community as responsible for the actions of a few.

Activist Yasser Louati, from the Collective Against Islamophobia, told Al Jazeera the government was pushing forward with “counterproductive” strategies despite having no proof that they worked.

“There have been only four inquiries [since November] directly linking people with terrorism, meaning this is a permanent state of emergency and a permanent coup,” he said.

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Sophie, a French civil servant of North African descent, said she feared the state of emergency could make conditions harder for Muslims.

“I’m here today in solidarity with the people who have been treated unfairly as a result of the state of emergency,” she said.

“Although I was born in France, I don’t feel like I’m seen like everybody else… I think things could get worse for Muslims, but I’m hoping it won’t be the case.”

Present at the rally were pro-Palestinian campaigners, many worried about the government’s crackdown on anti-Israel activities, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which seeks grassroots divestment from Israel over its activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Since October last year, more than a dozen BDS activists have faced trial or been convicted for promoting “discrimination, hatred, or violence” on the basis of ethnicity.

Government policies following the Paris attacks have drawn strong condemnation from Muslim groups [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]
Government policies following the Paris attacks have drawn strong condemnation from Muslim groups [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

BDS campaigner Mohamed Paz told Al Jazeera the situation had intensified since the state of emergency came into force.

“There has been a government clampdown on BDS with the intention of criminalising our movement… [Prime Minister] Manuel Valls is equating anti-Zionist criticism to anti-Semitism,” Paz said.

“He puts [BDS] within the context of the fight against radicalisation and terrorism, while we have nothing to do with either.”

Joining in the chants of “liberty” and “the state of emergency is a coup” were a group of undocumented migrant workers, who said they had been targeted by police under the expanded “stop and search” powers brought in under the emergency laws.


One man named Koet Lassana from West Africa told Al Jazeera he was frequently stopped under the new measures, and faced detention and deportation because he did not have the correct papers to stay in the country.

“We are sick of the situation… The police are everywhere, they harass us and stop and search us all the time asking for papers,” Lassana said.

The French government also faces opposition to the extension of the state of emergency from within the judicial system.

Among those marching with the activists and members of the public were magistrates associated with the second largest judicial trade union in the country, the “Union of Magistrates”.

Al Jazeera spoke to the union’s General Secretary Laurence Blisson, who said the state of emergency was a threat to democracy and the rule of law.

“The [measures] go against the separation of powers and grant the minister of interior the power to put people under house arrest, to raid houses outside the framework of criminal investigation,” Blisson said.

“There are means within the current legislation to deal with the issue of terrorism. We should not have fallen into the state of emergency.”

Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @ShafikFM

Source: Al Jazeera