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Emergency powers abused in France: Rights groups

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
People hold a banner reading “For the end of the state of emergency, against the loss of nationality” during a demonstration in Marseille, Jan. 30, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Human rights groups say the national state of emergency in France, imposed after the November 2015 attacks in Paris, is being abused by police and government officials.

In a report, Amnesty International said the state of emergency has led to thousands of warrantless house searches and hundreds of curfew orders, disrupting the lives of countless people. 

Security forces have been involved in a disproportionate crackdown, targeting mainly Muslims, it said.

“People wake up with 20, 30 police officers bursting into their houses; in many cases people are handcuffed, police point firearms against them,” the report’s author Marco Perolini said.  

“You cannot imagine the traumatizing impact on people,” he told the TIME magazine on Wednesday. 

Perolini also said he has seen the phrase “Threat to public order and security” on numerous search documents.

“You are targeted, your house is searched, police turn up… and then you are not given any information about why you are a target,” he said.

Policemen break a door to enter a church in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis city center, Nov. 18, 2015. (Photo by AFP)

The exceptional measures adopted under the state of emergency give French authorities extra powers.

They are enabled to keep people in their homes without trial, search houses without judicial approval and block websites deemed suspicious.

The measures also ban public demonstrations and allow authorities to dissolve groups deemed inciting acts seriously affecting public order in the country.

The state of emergency was initially introduced for 12 days, but was later extended for three months until February 26 through an accelerated legislative process.

French President Francois Hollande is seeking parliamentary approval for another three-month extension.

According to the Amnesty report, French officials are targeting people based on “very flimsy grounds.”

Those under suspicion find it extremely difficult to prove their innocence, in part because the charges against them are unclear, it said.


France’s former Justice Minister Christiane Taubira (Photo by AFP)

Human Rights Watch: Powers discriminatory 

In another study, Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed 18 French citizens in January, and reached conclusions very similar to those by Amnesty International.

They documented instances of police demolishing people’s belongings, and mistakenly beating a disabled man so badly he lost four teeth.

“Police have used their new emergency powers in abusive, discriminatory and unjustified ways,” said Izza Leghtas, the HRW’s Western Europe researcher.

Apart from human rights groups, the state of emergency has been censured by politicians.

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira resigned last month in protest at the government’s plan to strip French-born convicts of their citizenship if they hold a second nationality.

On Saturday, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Paris to slam the government’s proposed extension of the state of emergency.

Some 130 People lost their lives and 350 others were injured in the terror attacks in and around Paris on November 13 last year, which were claimed by the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group.

France is a supporter of militants described as "moderate" by the West, many of whom have joined violent groups such as Daesh and Nusra Front later.

Meanwhile, many French citizens have joined the ranks of Takfiri groups amid fears that they would return home someday and engage in terrorist activities.   

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