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French court upholds decision to strip jihadist of citizenship


France’s top court on Friday dismissed a legal challenge to a ruling that stripped a French-Moroccan jihadist of French citizenship after he was convicted on terror-related charges, a hot-button legal issue in the wake of attacks in Paris.


The Conseil Constitutionnel, France’s top legal body, dismissed a legal challenge by Ahmed Sahnouni’s lawyer, saying the decision to revoke his French citizenship was lawful.

Sahnouni, a Moroccan naturalised by France in 2003, was sentenced to seven years in jail in March 2013 for his role in a terrorist organisation and stripped of his citizenship in May last year.

His lawyer had argued that the move breached the equality between French-born citizens and those who are naturalised, and was thus unconstitutional.

The lawyer claimed that Article 25 of France’s civil code, which states that naturalised French citizens can be stripped of their nationality if found guilty of “acts of terrorism”, does not conform with France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Article 6 of the Declaration says the law “must be the same for everyone, whether it protects or punishes”.

In its ruling on Friday, the Conseil constitutionnel said “the difference in treatment (of French-born and naturalised citizens) instituted with the aim of combating terrorism does not violate the principle of equality”, adding that “the punishment is manifestly not disproportionate relative to the gravity of the acts”.

The case now heads back to the Conseil d’État, which acts both as legal adviser of the French government and as the supreme court for administrative justice. Legal experts say the Conseil is likely to give final approval to the move.

Expelled, but where to?

If Sahnouni’s nationality is definitively revoked, French authorities will still have to find a legal way to deport him.

France does not extradite its nationals, but it could ask the Paris Court of Appeals to approve Sahnouni’s extradition to Morocco once he is stripped of his citizenship.

Morocco has requested his extradition in the past, but it is unclear whether it will repeat its request in the present context of diplomatic tensions between the two countries. Paris and Rabat suspended legal cooperation in February 2014.

Should Morocco refuse the extradition, the decision to expel Sahnouni would go before the Conseil d’État, though it is not clear where he would be sent.

Only eight French citizens have been stripped of their nationality since the move became legal in 1998, according to parliamentary sources quoted by Reuters news agency.

“Of course, this only applies to dual nationals, since nobody can be made stateless,” said FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor, Armelle Charrier.

Following the deadly attacks on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher store earlier this month, opposition lawmakers have called for urgent measures to make it easier to strip terrorists of their nationality.

According to an Ifop poll published last week, 81 percent of French people support measures to strip French citizenship from dual nationals who have committed terrorist attacks in France.

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