France places climate activists under house arrest during Paris summit
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Twenty-four environmental activists have been placed under house arrest ahead of the Paris climate summit, using France’s state of emergency laws. Two of them slammed an attack on civil liberties in an interview with FRANCE 24.
French security forces have been on edge since Islamist gunmen killed 130 people in a deadly rampage across Paris on November 13, in the country’s worst ever terrorist attacks.
The ensuing state of emergency, declared by President François Hollande and extended by lawmakers for three months, has given police sweeping powers to search homes, handcuff residents and place people under house arrest, without judicial oversight.
On Thursday, one such raid in the western city of Rennes led police into an apartment shared by several unsuspecting flatmates.
“They entered the apartment with shotguns and assault rifles. It was quite violent. They pinned us to the ground,” said Amélie, a young barmaid who did not wish to give her full name. “It lasted quite a long time. We had no idea why they were there.”
The officers handed Amélie a restraining order informing her that she can no longer leave Rennes, is required to register three times a day at the local police station, and must stay at home between 8pm and 6am.
The order ends on December 12, the day the Paris climate summit draws to a close.
Five of her acquaintances have been issued similar injunctions. All of them, like Amélie, are left-wing and green activists.
Ban on protests
Citing the heightened terrorist threat, French authorities have issued a blanket ban on demonstrations – including all rallies planned to coincide with the climate summit, which Hollande is due to formally open on Monday.
Some climate campaigners have vowed to defy the ban, which author and veteran campaigner Naomi Klein described as “a gross abuse of power that risks turning the summit into a farce”.
France’s Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, has defended the decision to place 24 climate activists under house arrest for the duration of the summit, which will see around 150 heads of state and government converge on the French capital.
In a trip to Strasbourg on Saturday, he said the activists had “taken part in violent protests in the past and vowed not to abide by the principles of the state of emergency”.
AFP news agency has had access to the restraining notices. It says they point to the “threat to public order” posed by radical campaigners, noting that security forces “must not be distracted from the task of combating the terrorist threat”.
‘Infringement on freedom of speech’
Marie, a friend of Amélie’s who was also placed under house arrest, said the orders refer to past gatherings by green activists, including sometimes violent protests against plans to build a new airport near Nantes, in western France.
Neither of the two young ladies wished to confirm their presence at the events. But Marie added: “The right to protest is becoming a crime.”
They said they had no plans to travel to Paris for the climate summit.
“Our house arrests are based merely on the supposition that we might attend a rally in Paris, when in fact there is no evidence whatsoever,” said Amélie, who can no longer go to work as a result of her restraining order.
Her lawyer, Marie Dosé, argued that the state of emergency had been hijacked to crack down on other forms of dissent.
She said: “If we start placing people under house arrest for ideas that have nothing to do with terrorism […], this constitutes an infringement on freedom of speech and assembly.”
Dosé was hoping to obtain a court hearing on Sunday to plead her clients' case.