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France Adopts Anti-Terror Law Eroding Civil Liberties

Paris, 22 September 2014 — Last week, a nearly empty French lower house (National Assembly) voted with a large majority in favour of the “bill strengthening provisions on the fight against terrorism”. In an atmosphere heavy with “apocalyptic” anxiety and speeches on the terrorist threat – particularly online –, interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and rapporteur Sébastien Pietrasanta wore down all opposition, blocking any further thought on the serious breaches of the Rule of Law contained in this bill.

The discussion surrounding the bill was marked by a security-obsessed arms race between Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, rapporteur Pietrasanta and representatives from both the Left and the Right.

While criticism on both the content and the form of the bill are growing (including from media usually moderate on such issues), many MPs proved ready to give up on fundamental freedoms in the name of the fight against terrorism.

The articles most debated in the National Assembly had already been identified as problematic early on by La Quadrature du Net, they relate to:

  • Travel restrictions, control of freedom of movement by banning citizens from leaving the country (Article 1);
  • The removal of articles regarding “glorifying of terrorism” from press laws and their inclusion in the Penal Code (lesser procedural guarantees) (Article 4);
  • The creation of “individual terrorist enterprise” and “usually visiting terrorist websites” offenses (Article 5);
  • Administrative blocking of Internet websites advocating terrorism (Article 9).

In addition, articles 10 to 15bis create new procedural exceptions which weaken due process for all matters of organized crime and even collective actions. They open serious risks of police incriminating any form of radical political action without proper judicial control.

During the debate, Bernard Cazeneuve dodged all questions, taking refuge in half-truths, referring for example to the intervention of the administrative judge in the website blocking process and suggesting that the judge would intervene systematically as a mediator – while the text of the law says no such thing. By trying to ridicule his opponents as well as the press who had denounced the bill, he showed that his objective is mainly to pass knee-jerk legislation, to ease red tape for the police and to circumvent the judiciary, rather than adopting a proper law.

Before the vote, and to encourage citizens and volunteers to take part in the debate, raise awareness and make themselves heard by members of the Parliament, La Quadrature du Net created a website, “presumes-terroristes.fr” [fr] (presumed terrorists), to analyze the bill and its dangers. Many associations such as Reporters Without Borders, the Human Rights League as well as many others joined the campaign.

The next step for the bill will be the debate on the Senate floor (upper house) in the coming weeks. La Quadrature du Net calls on citizens to contact their Senators to raise awareness as early as possible about the dangers of this bill. It is still possible to change the course of the legislative process.

“The recent debates in the French National Assembly on the ‘Terrorism’ bill are a striking example of legislating under pressure of emotional news. The Ministry of the Interior kept instrumentalizing news about the participation of French citizens to jihadist groups in Syria, and the fear that they might engage in individual action terrorism upon their return. We thank the few MPs who had the courage to oppose the proposed dangerous bill and now call on senators to reject this text. Democratic states harming fundamental rights by adopting inefficient measures in the name of fighting the apology of terrorism is exactly what the terror groups are looking for” said Philippe Aigrain, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net.