A growing number of mosques are being closed by France, using powers that rights activists say give authorities a blank check to shut down places of worship without proper scrutiny.
Reuters, quoting French Interior Ministry sources, reported on Tuesday that French authorities had closed 22 mosques over the past 18 months. It was a marked increase from the combined total over the previous three years.
The report added that authorities had investigated some 90 out of France’s total of roughly 2,500 Muslim places of worship on suspicion of spreading “separatist” ideology.
The French government has already announced that it would set in regular checks and controls for Islamic associations.
Mosque representatives say allegations of spreading radicalism are backed up with scant evidence.
Fionnuala Ni Aolain, a UN special rapporteur on the protection of human rights, says the allegations give authorities carte blanche to close down places of worship with procedures.
“The flirtation with secretive evidence is in itself worrying, but it also breaches provisions in international treaties” relating to the right to a fair trial and equality before the law, she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has implemented a raft of laws and measures aimed, he says, at tackling Muslims who challenge France’s secular values.
In October 2017, five months after Macron's ascent to power, the French parliament adopted a new law that bolstered police surveillance powers and made it easier to close mosques. Under the 2017 law, the Interior Ministry has the power to close places of worship for up to six months if there are suspicions of inciting violence.