France ‘abuses’ Muslims under new state of emergency law

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International release reports on ‘abusive’ and 'discriminatory' raids against Muslims under emergency laws in France

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Members of the Muslim community pray in a mosque in Marseille during an open day weekend for mosques in France on January 9, 2016

Human Rights Watch(HRW) and Amnesty International published separate reports on Wednesday saying that France has been conducting abusive and discriminatory raids and house arrests against Muslims under its new state of emergency law.

HRW pointed out cases where excessive force had been used leading to human rights violations including violence and said the measures have created economic problems, stigmatised targeted and traumatised children.

After interviewing 18 people who said they had been subjected to abusive searches or placed under house arrest, HRW reported that those affected said the police burst into homes, restaurants or mosques, broke people’s belongings, terrified children, and placed restrictions on people’s movements to the extent that they lost their income or suffered physically.

French police broke four of a disabled man’s teeth before they realised he was not the person they were looking for, reported HRW.

In another case, a single mother’s children were transferred to foster care following a raid.

Many of those interviewed told the Human Rights Watch that they were now afraid of the police and shunned by their neighbours. Some of them said that they were thinking of leaving the country out of fear.

“France has a responsibility to ensure public safety and try to prevent further attacks, but the police have used their new emergency powers in abusive, discriminatory, and unjustified ways,” Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.

“This abuse has traumatised families and tarnished reputations, leaving targets feeling like second-class citizens,” Leghtas added.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve replies to deputies during the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, France on January 12, 2016. (Reuters)

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that the emergency powers, which enable police to search homes and put people under house arrest without prior judicial approval “do not signify abandonment of the rule of law.”

Amnesty International also published a research on abuses under the new state of emergency in France.

Most of the 60 people Amnesty International interviewed said that harsh measures were adopted without any explanation and with sometimes excessive force.

“While governments can use exceptional measures in exceptional circumstances, they must do so with caution. The reality we have seen in France is that sweeping executive powers, with few checks on their use, have generated a range of human rights violations. It is difficult to see how the French authorities can possibly argue that they represent a proportionate response to the threats they face,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, said.

French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency on Nov. 14, enabling an emergency law created in 1955 during French war in Algeria.

Parliament on Nov. 20, extended the state of emergency for three months until Feb. 26 and expanded the powers under the 1955 law.

Hollande said that France’s emergency laws approved warrantless searches.

French law enforcement officials have carried out more than 3,200 raids and placed about 400 people under house arrest.

Masked special forces police escort a member of the Muslim community under heavy guard in Coueron, near Nantes. (Reuters)

The raids came a day after deadly attacks in the capital Paris on Nov. 13, which killed 130 people and injured hundreds and were claimed by the DAESH terrorist group.

The French government said that it would ask parliament to renew the state of emergency for another three months. However, it has not provided compelling evidence that would justify the need to continue these sweeping measures.

Human Rights Watch said that parliament should not renew the state of emergency due to lack of such evidence.

"In a context of growing Islamophobia, the French government should urgently reach out to Muslims and give them assurances that they are not under suspicion because of their religion or ethnicity," Leghtas said.

Several hundred people Muslims gather to pray at the Grande Mosque in Lyon, France on November 15, 2015, for the victims of the series of shootings in Paris (Reuters)

"Freedom, equality, and fraternity have been badly damaged in the weeks since the November attacks. France should live by those words and restore their meaning," she added.

There are between 5.5 million and 6.2 million Muslims in France, or about 7.6 percent of the total population, which makes the group the largest Muslim minority in Europe.

TRTWorld and agencies