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Amnesty International slams ‘disproportional’ French state of emergency

Philippe Huguen, AFP | Thousands of people protested across France on January 30, 2016 against the country’s state of emergency

In a damning report published Thursday, Amnesty International has slammed the “disproportional impact” of France’s state of emergency, which was declared in the aftermath of the November 13 Paris attacks.


The report was released a day after the government introduced a bill to extend the extraordinary security measures – due to expire on February 26 – for another three months.

Under the state of emergency, police powers are greatly expanded to allow authorities to conduct raids and make arrests without the prior accord of a judge.

Amnesty said that since the state of emergency came into effect nearly three months ago, authorities have carried out 3,210 raids, placing more than 400 people under house arrest and closing 12 places of worship.

The human rights group interviewed 35 people for the report, all of whom were either witnesses to or the target of a police raid.

‘I thought it was an Islamaphobic attack’

Among them was a man simply identified as Marc, who was at home with his pregnant wife and 10-year-old son in the northern region of Picardie when the police banged on his door on the night of November 17, 2015.

“I thought it was an Islamaphobic attack, vengeance for the attacks in Paris,” Marc said.

He and his family quickly sought refuge in the bathroom while the police forced their way into the home.

“I thought we were finished… they said that it was the police, but we didn’t believe them. My wife and child were in a panic. Then, as soon as I opened the door, they hit me in the face and handcuffed me and my wife,” he said.

Marc and his family were eventually released without charge, but according to Amnesty, his experience was not unique.


“In a number of incidents, the authorities did not inform the people targeted of the exact reason behind the raid at their home. This lack of explanation, and the raid’s inevitable intrusion into [one’s] personal space has left many perplexed,” the report said.

The group also said that the way the state of emergency has been enforced was “discriminatory”, pointing out that a number of people had been put under house arrest for “vague and insufficient” reasons.

“The authorities have often justified house arrests by stating that the person targeted represented a threat, because of their religious practices or their presumed ‘radicalisation’, or their ties with other Muslim suspects, without specifying how this behaviour or suspected beliefs constituted a threat to public safety,” the report said.

In other cases, Amnesty said that those targeted by the authorities faced trumped-up charges.

“While governments can use exceptional measures in exceptional circumstances, they must do so with caution – sweeping executive powers, with few checks on their use, have generated a range of human-rights violations," said John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme.

"It is difficult to see how the French authorities can possibly argue that they represent a proportionate response to the threats they face," he added.

Amnesty urged the government not to extend the state of emergency past its February deadline, unless it can prove that the measures are indispensible.

“Amnesty International asks the French government not to prolong the state of emergency unless it is able to actually demonstrate that the situation has reached a level of public danger elevated enough to threaten the country’s existence,” the report concluded.

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