Emergency powers abused by police, officials in France: Rights groups

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

In a report published on Wednesday, 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 across France.

Security forces have been involved in a crackdown – far disproportionate to any terror threats – against targets that are mainly Muslim, the report 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, told TIME on Wednesday. “You cannot imagine the traumatizing impact on people.”

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.

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

The Senate is to vote on the proposal on February 9, followed by a vote in the National Assembly on February 16.

According to the Amnesty report, French officials are targeting people based on “very flimsy grounds,” and those under suspicion find it extremely difficult to prove their innocence, in part because the charges against them are unclear.

Issa, a French Muslim salesman, is one of the victims of the emergency law. He told TIME that security officials targeted him as a suspected extremist late last year. Police stormed his home, copied the data from his computer, and imposed restrictions on him, confining him to his small town near the French Alps. They also replaced his permanent identity document with a so-called “replacement” card, marking him as a person under suspicion.

Issa said his troubles began after a friend of his wife, with whom she had had an argument, condemned him in an anonymous call to a police hotline. “In France these days, you can just accuse someone anonymously on a telephone,” he said.

Human Rights Watch survey

In another study, Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed 18 French citizens in January, and reached conclusions very similar to those of 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 also been censured by politicians. French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira resigned last month in protest at the government’s controversial plan to strip convicted French-born terrorists 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 15 last year, which were claimed by the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group.

Apart from the security measures at home territory, France also intensified its campaign of airstrikes against Daesh positions in Syria. France had already been contributing to a US-led coalition bombing purported Daesh positions in the Arab country.

 

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