French bill makes intimidation on religious grounds a crime

The draft law also makes it an offence to share personal information of a person that could lead to them being harmed.

The legislative piece was drafted in the aftermath of the gruesome beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty in Paris last month [File: Pascal Guyot/AFP]

A new French bill drafted in the aftermath of a gruesome beheading of a teacher last month makes it a crime to intimidate public servants on religious grounds.

The legislative piece, which was seen by the AFP news agency on Wednesday and will be presented before the cabinet on December 9, also makes it an offence to share the personal information of a person in a way that allows them to be identified or located by people who want to harm them.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has clamped down on what it calls “radical Islam” following the murder of Samuel Paty, who was the target of a vicious online smear campaign for showing his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech. Many Muslims believe any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.

The teacher’s murder sent shockwaves through France, which has been hit by several attacks since 2015, most of them carried out by French citizens.

Paty’s name was shared online by the father of one of his students, who labelled the teacher a “thug” in a video calling for his dismissal over the cartoons.

The father also exchanged messages with Paty’s killer, an 18-year-old Chechen refugee who travelled more than 80km (50 miles) from his home in Normandy to attack the teacher in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.

Macron has promised France would “not stop drawing caricatures”, drawing severe criticism from leaders across the Muslim world and protests in a number of countries. Pakistan’s government summoned the French ambassador to register a protest against the French president’s comments.

Just weeks before Paty’s death, Macron had set out plans to tackle what he called the “Islamist separatism” in poor French neighbourhoods that aimed to create a “counter-society” where Islamic law prevailed.

‘Hands off my teacher’

The bill drafted by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti provides for each child to be given an ID number that would be used to ensure they are attending school.

“We must save our children from the clutches of the Islamists,” Darmanin told Le Figaro newspaper on Wednesday.

The draft law also cracks down on online hate speech of the kind suffered by Paty by allowing for suspects to be summarily tried.

“This law is, ‘hands off my teacher, hands off the values of the republic’,” Dupond-Moretti told RTL radio.

But French human and civil rights activist Yasser Louati said he doubted the draft law was about protecting citizens, arguing instead it was more about about shielding policymakers from critique and online mobilisation against their policies.

Louati said bringing new laws is not a solution, considering that laws already exist to tackle online harassment and hate speech.

“The issue with Emmanuel Macron is every time there is a social problem, they come up with new laws,” Louati told Al Jazeera.

“I doubt they will apply it to protect the everyday citizen, let alone the everyday Muslim, or a Muslim woman who gets harassed online.”

In the wake of several assaults, France has also begun to close mosques and is cracking down on the organisations it suspects are spreading hate. However, there are fears of collective punishment and rising Islamophobia.

The new bill stipulates that any association that seeks public funding must agree to “respect the principles and values of the republic” and return the money if found to have flouted the rules.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies