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France: new law threatens to make emergency measures the 'new norm'

Reaction to the 13 November Paris attacks risks entrenching authoritarian powers © AFP/Getty Images
‘Many people are being targeted solely on the basis of their religious practices or vague suspicions’ - Gauri van Gulik
A proposed change to France’s Constitution would put many people at even greater risk of human rights violations by giving the authorities wide powers to close down organisations, conduct unwarranted house raids, shut down mosques and restrict people’s freedom of movement, said Amnesty International today (22 December). 
The amendment, which if approved as an official government proposal by the French Council of Ministers during discussions on 23 December, would allow the authorities to continue using state of emergency measures for a further six months after the end of the current state of emergency, set to expire on 26 February.
Under the present state of emergency, imposed after the 13 November Paris attacks, the French authorities can carry out house searches without a warrant, impose assigned residency, shut down associations, and restrict other human rights including the right of peaceful assembly. So far there have been 2,700 warrant-less house searches, 360 people have been assigned residency (see below), more than 20 mosques and many Muslim associations have been searched, and around ten mosques shut down.
According to media reports, the 2,700 raids carried out in the past month have resulted in only two criminal investigations for terrorism-related offences; a further 488 investigations resulting from these raids were for unrelated criminal offences. These figures raise doubts over whether the raids are a necessary and proportionate measure to protect public safety.
Amnesty believes there is a significant risk that emergency measures will continue to be used against particular groups and associations, especially Muslims. Amar, who had been subjected to a house search, told Amnesty:
“It seems to me that if you display your religion, if you are bearded or wear a religious symbol or dress, or if you pray in a particular mosque you can be considered ‘radical’ and thus targeted. “If you try not to display your religion too much, then they think you are concealing something. We don’t know who they want us to be, how we have to behave.” 
Despite advice against the proposed measures from the Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, if the proposed constitutional amendment is passed this week it would go to Parliament for a vote in 2016. 
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director Gauri van Gulik said:
“These emergency measures are already proving to be disproportionate. Extending them outside of a state of emergency is a dangerous step.
“Using the terrorist threat to change the constitution opens the floodgates for emergency-like measures to become the new norm.
“Declaring a state of emergency in situations where there is a ‘threat to the life of the nation’ such as the Paris attacks is one thing, but entrenching emergency measures to counter more vaguely-defined threats is another.
“Many people are being targeted solely on the basis of their religious practices or vague suspicions.”

Assigned residency

So far 360 people have been under assigned residency - that is, they are obliged to live in a certain area and to report up to three times a day to the police in that locality. This measure severely restricts their freedom of movement and negatively impacts on their private and professional lives. 
One freelance consultant in the Paris region told Amnesty that he had been under assigned residency since 15 November, when police showed up at his house based on his supposed connection to “radical” Muslims and people who had travelled to Syria. He said he only vaguely knew one person out of a long list of his supposed associates provided by the authorities. Being under assigned residency and having to report to a police station several times a day has meant that this father of three has had to cancel all of his work-related commitments. He feared the negative impact an extended state of emergency would have on his family:
“I am so afraid it will be renewed. That would mean the measures against me will last longer, that perhaps I won’t be able to work for months.”

Wave of house searches

Many people have described to Amnesty how house raids have left them traumatised. They’ve had no official explanation over why the search was considered necessary or what the authorities were looking for. Nadia, whose father is 80 and lives with his disabled daughter, told Amnesty researchers after a raid on 21 November:
“My father had heart problems, he had just been released from hospital. Police forced the entrance door, they did not ring the bell. They burst into the flat, started screaming and handcuffed both my father and my sister. My father felt unwell and after a few minutes fainted. They had to call an ambulance … He was so scared, he cried a lot when we visited him at the hospital the first days.” 

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