The French parliament today adopted a controversial anti-terror bill that gives the authorities permanent new powers to search homes, shut places of worship and restrict freedom of movement. The new law, which will replace the state of emergency imposed after the 2015 Paris attacks, was approved by the Senate on its second reading, despite campaigners warning of a threat to civil liberties. The lower house National Assembly overwhelmingly approved it last week. The legislation, which sparked weeks of intense debate in parliament, makes permanent several of the measures included in the emergency laws enacted after the Paris attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The state of emergency expires on November 1, after being extended six times. In a major speech on security President Emmanuel Macron said the compromise text reached by lawmakers would allow the authorities to combat terrorism “without abandoning our values and principles”.
Addressing an audience of security force members, he urged them to “fully utilise” the powers granted to them by the new law, which allows the authorities to heavily curtail the movements of suspected jihadist sympathisers, to close religious sites that promote radical ideas, and throw up security perimeters around any event deemed vulnerable to attack. France has been hit by a series of attacks since 2015 by Islamic extremists that have left more than 230 people dead. Macron said that 13 terror plots had been foiled since the start of 2017.
The new anti-terror legislation has encountered little resistance from a public traumatised by a string of jihadist attacks, despite criticism it will undermine civil liberties. A recent poll found 57 per cent of the French were in favour. Macron said he would bolster intelligence gathering in prisons, which have been a breeding ground for radicalisation, and devise programmes to prevent young people in troubled neighbourhoods from coming under the spell of extremist groups.
The new law will also enable the authorities to carry out more on-the-spot identity checks in border areas, as well as around train stations, ports and airports. Rights groups have voiced fears that such checks will be used by the police against migrants and minorities, particularly Muslims. Human Rights Watch criticised what it called a “normalisation of emergency powers” and UN experts raised objections in a letter to the French government last month. Both Macron and his Interior Minister Gerard Collomb argued that the bill struck the right balance between security and individual freedoms.
France has progressively tightened its legal arsenal to tackle terror threats over the years, passing around 15 different laws since 1986. The October 1 stabbing to death of two women in the southern port of Marseille brought to 241 the number of people killed in attacks claimed by, or attributed to, jihadists since January 2015. In a separate development, the police this week arrested several people over a suspected rightwing extremist plot to target mosques and politicians, including a government spokesman.