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France Seeks to Extend State of Emergency Despite Protests


Despite widespread protests across the country in recent days, the French government confirmed on Wednesday that it would seek a three-month extension of the state of emergency it declared after the attacks in and around Paris that left 130 people dead in November.

The extension is one of several pieces of legislation that the French government has been pushing for in the aftermath of the attacks, including a bill that would increase the powers of the police and antiterrorism investigators, as well as a much-debated proposal to strip the citizenship of people convicted of terrorism. The citizenship proposal recently prompted the French justice minister to quit.

President François Hollande declared the state of emergency a day after the coordinated attacks on Nov. 13, which were carried out by teams of Islamic State gunmen. The French Parliament voted several days later to extend it for a three-month period that expires on Feb. 26. Lawmakers are expected to approve the new extension this month.

The state of emergency expands the powers of the French authorities, giving them the ability to carry out police raids and to put people under house arrest without the prior authorization of a judge.

A statement released by Mr. Hollande’s office after a weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday said that the police had conducted 3,289 raids since the attacks, and that 303 people were still under house arrest.

The number of new raids and house arrests has dropped significantly since the first few weeks after Nov. 13, but the statement said that France was still facing a “very high” terrorist threat, citing recent attacks both abroad and at home.

Stéphane Le Foll, a government spokesman, said at a news conference after the cabinet meeting that the state of emergency was “necessary” and had been “useful.” He added that it “must continue to be useful.”

Thousands of people took to the streets around France last week to protest the state of emergency, which critics say has lasted too long and provided few results. Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, wrote in the newspaper Le Monde on Wednesday that the extension would usher in a “difficult period for human rights in France.”

“This state of emergency seems to have had relatively limited concrete effects in terms of fighting against terrorism,” Mr. Muiznieks wrote, “but it has on the other hand greatly restricted the exercise of fundamental liberties and weakened certain guarantees of the rule of law.”

Another bill introduced by the French government on Wednesday would increase the powers of antiterrorism officials and security forces. It has been criticized by French judges and human rights associations, which argue that it is the government’s way of continuing to use extraordinary security measures after the state of emergency ends.

The bill, which the French Parliament is expected to vote on next month, would give prosecutors the ability to order police searches of bags and vehicles near “sensitive” sites and buildings, and enable the police to hold people for up to four hours during an identity check if they are deemed suspicious, even if they produce documentation.

The bill would also allow the authorities to place people trying to leave for, or returning from, “terrorist operating theaters” like Syria and Iraq under house arrest for one month.

The bill also loosens restrictions on the use of firearms for French police officers, who currently can shoot someone only in self-defense. It would allow officers to use their firearms against someone who has committed or attempted one or several murders and is deemed likely to repeat these acts within a short time period.

Separately, the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, will start discussing another bill on Friday that aims to modify the French Constitution. It would first create a new article that would set, but not fundamentally change, the conditions for declaring a state of emergency, which are currently enshrined in a regular law.

The government argues that this will prevent future governments from easily changing these conditions, which include mandatory parliamentary approval for extending a state of emergency beyond 12 days.

But the second proposed change to the Constitution, which would make it possible for judges to strip the citizenship of those convicted of terrorism, has proved much more divisive and complex. Most politicians recognize that it is a symbolic measure that would do little to deter would-be terrorists, and it has become the focal point of intense political debate.

The government initially said that the bill would make it possible to strip the nationality of French-born dual nationals convicted of terrorism. This prompted accusations that officials were unfairly targeting binational citizens and set off weeks of increasingly bitter and confusing discussions on acceptable wording that would not anger too many legislators.

It remains unclear whether the government will stick to phrasing that does not mention dual citizenship but still applies only to dual citizens in practice, or whether it will make it possible to strip anybody of nationality, regardless of how many citizenships they hold.

The bill also has to be examined by the Senate, the upper house of Parliament. After the two houses have agreed on a common version of the bill, they will convene as a congress to vote on it jointly. A majority of three-fifths is required to enact the changes to the Constitution.


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