French parliament approves new anti-terrorism law

Activists fear the new law will create a permanent emergency situation in the country.

The French parliament on Tuesday approved a controversial anti-terror bill, which activists say will create a permanent emergency situation in the country.


January 7, 2016: A man wielding a meat cleaver and carrying an ISIL emblem was shot dead as he tried to attack a police station in Paris.

June 13, 2016: Larossi Abballa, 25, killed a police officer and his partner, Jessica Schneider at their home in Magnanville, west of Paris. Abballa was killed by a police SWAT team, but he had already claimed the murders on social media in the name of the ISIL group.

July 14, 2016: A truck ploughed through a crowd on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais after a Bastille Day fireworks display, killing 84 people and injuring over 330. The driver, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, is shot dead by security forces. ISIL claimed responsibility.

July 26, 2016: Attackers slit the throat of a priest in a hostage-taking at his church in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

February 3, 2017: A man armed with a machete in each hand attacked four soldiers on patrol at Paris’s Louvre Museum, shouting “Allah Akbar”. The attacker, a 29-year-old Egyptian, was seriously injured.

March 18, 2017: A 39-year-old man was killed at Paris’s Orly airport after attacking a soldier. The attacker shouted: “I am ready to die for Allah,” according to the Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins.

April 19, 2017: Police arrested two Frenchmen in their twenties in Marseille on suspicion of planning an attack, with bomb-making materials and guns found in searches.

April 21, 2017: A known terror suspect shoots dead a French policeman and wounds two others on the Champs Elysees, before being killed in return fire, in an assault claimed by the ISIL.

September 15, 2017: A man wielding a knife attacked a soldier in a Paris metro station.

October 1, 2017: Two people, including one woman, are dead following a knife attack at the main train station in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, according to the French interior ministry.

The bill, approved by 415 votes to 127 and 19 abstentions grants police exceptional powers.

On Sunday, a knifeman used multiple aliases before killing two women at the main train station in Marseille in an attack claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

Investigators said the attacker, a Tunisian, had gone by eight different names during various brushes with the law, including for shoplifting and illegal weapons possession.

READ MORE: Is French secularism feeding Islamophobia?

Since the Paris attacks in 2015, France has repeatedly extended the nation-wide state of emergency, the longest state of emergency since the Algerian War of the 1960s.

In July, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to lift the order and transfer certain exception emergency policing powers into permanent law. 

This, according to human rights advocates, will not only harm the rights to liberty, security, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion across the country, but  will also risk creating a “permanent emergency situation”.

“The anti-terrorism law… will give the state only extraordinary powers of something that we don’t even have a proper definition of. This law will dismantle France,” Yasser Louati, a leading French human rights and civil rights activist, told Al Jazeera.

READ MORE: Far-right feasts on France’s unchecked Islamophobia

Louati stressed that the state of emergency for the past two years has not changed “anything in the country” and has proven to be “ineffective and insufficient”.

“This law has instead, incited fear among people, especially the Muslim community,” he said.

“Muslims are actually the ones who are the victims of terrorism in the country. They are equally being killed in terrorist attacks and then later, specifically targetted by the laws,” adding that the state has adopted an “ideological position” on fighting “terrorism”.

“All [the emergency laws] measures target Muslims in the country, mosques, and the businesses owned by Muslim, it’s a secret to no one.”

What is the new anti-terror law?

The exceptional measures under the new anti-terrorism law will allow the police to conduct house raid and searches without a warrant or judicial oversight, including at night.

It also gives extra powers to officials to place people under house arrest without the normal judicial process.

The bill also allows for restrictions on gatherings and closures of places of worship. 

“The necessary control exerted by the judges to prevent abuses of individual rights are considerably weakened, leaving more discretionary powers to the police and administration,” Pierre Bocquillon, a lecturer of politics at Britain’s University of East Anglia, told Al Jazeera, said explaining the anti-terrorism law. 

“By weakening the judiciary and empowering the executive, this represents a threat to the rule of law.”

PEOPLE AND POWER: Backlash: France’s New Hard Line on Terror (25:01)

Bocquillon explained that such measures can be adopted on civilians based on “mere suspicions” and stressed that “it will fuel discriminations and are a threat for individual rights”. 

“Although in principle the law doesn’t target particularly ethnic minorities and Muslims, in practice in the current context of suspicion and rampant Islamophobia, these groups tend to be the primary targets,” he said.

“There is also the risk that these measures will be used for other purposes, not just terrorism, but also as against protesters and social movements.”

One police officer was killed and another wounded in a shooting on Paris's Champs Elysees on April 10 [Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images]
One police officer was killed and another wounded in a shooting on Paris’s Champs Elysees on April 10 [Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images]

At the moment, thousands of Sentinelle special force are deployed to patrol the streets across the country to guard vulnerable sites such as stations, tourist attractions and places of worship.

Operation Sentinelle is the army’s first wide-scale peacetime military operation on mainland France.

It was launched after the killings at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in January 2015. But the army’s presence were increased to 10,000 troops across the nation, with about 6,500 of them in the Paris area.

This new law leans towards creating a society based on suspicion, explains RimSarah Alouane, a researcher in Public Law at the University Toulouse Capitole.

“We are witnessing the emergence of a policy definition of public threats that is putting at stake the basic principles of French criminal law. For example, this bill will impose measures on a person not to punish him for a crime he has committed, but to prevent those that he may possibly commit,” she said.  

“This could affect anyone: most likely minorities, but also political/social activists whose views might be deemed suspicious by public authorities.”

Has the state of emergency functioned?

Sunday’s attack was the tenth major attack since the state of emergency was imposed, Yasser Louati asks: why do attacks still happen in state of emergency which has been imposed for more than two years?

“Can we ask the state, why are we still facing such attacks in the country? if a two-year state of emergency cannot stop such attacks, how will the permanent anti-terrorism bill stop it?” he said. 

However, Gerard Collomb, the new interior minister, told reporters in July that seven terror plots were foiled since the start of 2017.

In 2016, at least 17 attacks were thwarted in France and the former French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it was “absolutely necessary” to extend the state of emergency.

Source: Al Jazeera