FRANCE: Don’t Shackle Freedoms on the Count of Terrorism!

France, Press Release, Shrinking Space for Civil Society, Terrorism

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4/12/15 – EuroMed Rights expresses serious concerns about ongoing and future restrictions of public freedoms in France, following the terror attacks that shook the French capital on November 13th. Our organisation calls on the French government to strictly respect the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality, and to abide by its international human rights commitments, at all time.

Our organisation has expressed its horror at the terrorist attacks perpetrated in Paris and acknowledges the right and duty of the French government to seek and prosecute those responsible and prevent further attacks.

We reaffirm, nonetheless, that only by upholding the most absolute commitment to human rights and the rule of law can we really counter terrorism.

In the context of the state of emergency (extended for another three months in November 19th), France has granted its security forces with extensive powers. Police and intelligence services are extensively using these powers, with more than 250 persons under house arrest and more than 2000 homes and offices raided, sometimes without clear motivations or further prosecution on terrorism, giving way to mistakes, abuse and violence.

Drastic restrictions to freedom of assembly have been operated in the context of the Climate Summit (COP 21) in Paris, held from 30 November to 11 December. Indeed, all marches and protests were banned in France during the climate conference, while other economic or sports events are allowed. However, social movements play a major role as watch dogs and proposal-makers and should retain the right to expression in public spaces in such circumstances.

These general prohibitions can only lead to clashes, as was the case in Paris where 341 people have been interrogated and several prosecuted.

In general, it appears that actions by the French government have resulted in a context of general suspicion against people practicing Islam, to be later extended to all those who oppose its policies. This has proven to be pretty futile in the fight against terrorism.

We can only express a more acute sense of worry at the prospect of extending the state of emergency in France, amending the constitution so it encompasses the state of emergency and grants enhanced powers to the police without any judicial control.

EuroMed Rights calls on the French government to respect individual and collective freedoms and to ensure freedom of expression and demonstration. French authorities must stop prosecuting political activists for acts that have nothing to do with the fight against terrorism. If it is the duty of any democratic state to fight terrorism, it cannot be in disregard of fundamental freedoms.