French ‘separatism’ bill risks discriminating Muslims: Amnesty

Rights group says ‘many problematic provisions’ of the draft law, which heads to the Senate on Tuesday, should be scrapped or amended.

A woman holds a placard reading 'Freedom leads all the people' as protesters demonstrate against the so-called 'anti-separatism' bill in Paris on February 14 [File: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP]

As the French Senate prepares to debate the so-called “anti-separatism” bill, human rights group Amnesty International has made a last-minute appeal for “many problematic provisions” of the draft law to be scrapped or amended.

The Senate debate on Tuesday comes after legislators in the country’s lower house National Assembly, which is dominated by President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist La République En Marche (LREM) party, voted overwhelmingly in favour of it in a February 16 vote.

The conservative-led Senate is expected to approve the bill.

In a statement on Monday, Amnesty said the new regulations planned under the law would lead to further discrimination against the country’s Muslim minority.

“This proposed law would be a serious attack on rights and freedoms in France,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s Europe researcher.

Macron’s government says the bill will tackle what the president has termed “Islamist separatism” and underscore the country’s secular system.

But critics argue it breaches religious freedom and unfairly targets France’s Muslim minority, which at 5.7 million people is the largest in Europe.

The law does not specifically mention the word Islam, but French Muslims have for months protested against it, saying the measures single them out.

“Time and again we have seen the French authorities use the vague and ill-defined concept of ‘radicalisation’ or ‘radical Islam’ to justify the imposition of measures without valid grounds, which risks leading to discrimination in its application against Muslims and other minority groups,” Perolini said. “This stigmatisation must end.”

‘Attack on rights and freedoms’

In its current state, several aspects of the bill raise concern for the protection of freedom of association and expression and the principle of non-discrimination in France, Amnesty said.

It cited several of its more than 50 articles as problematic – including Article 6, which states that any organisation that applies for a grant from the State or a local authority must sign a contract of “republican commitment”, and Article 8, which will hand further power to authorities in dissolving organisations.

“It would allow public authorities to fund only organisations that sign a ‘contract of republican commitment’ – a vaguely defined concept which is wide open to abuse and threatens the very freedoms of expression and association the French authorities claim to stand for,” said Perolini, commenting on Article 6.

Elsewhere, the bill aims to regulate homeschooling and foreign funding of religious organisations and crack down on polygamy and doctors who issue so-called virginity certificates.

The legislation has been debated in a highly charged atmosphere after three attacks late last year, including a deadly October 16 attack on teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on free speech.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies