FOCUS: Terror-weary French choose security over sacred liberté

France is proud of its human rights traditions -- but after a wave of jihadist attacks few are standing in the way of a new anti-terror law that campaigners say erodes freedoms.

FOCUS: Terror-weary French choose security over sacred liberté
Photos: AFP

Backed overwhelmingly by MPs in parliament's lower house on Tuesday, the law makes permanent elements of the state of emergency enacted after the 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead.

Without seeking permission from a judge, authorities will be able to limit the movements of suspected jihadist sympathisers, close places of worship
accused of condoning terror, and carry out more on-the-spot identity checks.

After several more Islamist assaults, President Emmanuel Macron's government has been able to push the law through with minimal fuss — much to
the dismay of rights campaigners.

“There is a numbness of public opinion with regard to the defence of our liberties, a numbness that gets renewed with every terrorist attack,” said
lawyer Emmanuel Daoud, a member of the International Human Rights Federation.


The latest bloodshed came last weekend when 29-year-old Tunisian Ahmed Hanachi stabbed two young women to death in Marseille before he was killed by anti-terror troops.

It brought to 241 the number killed by suspected jihadists on French soil since 2015, in major attacks including the truck assault in Nice and the
shooting at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The new law — expected to come into force on November 1 — exposed major differences in parliament, with hard-left MPs urging it to be scrapped and
rightwingers pushing for even tougher measures.

But most citizens appear to back the changes: 57 percent approve of the bill, according to a poll published by Le Figaro newspaper last week, even if 62 percent think it will reduce their freedoms.

Environmentalists' squat raided

“A huge majority of French people do not feel affected by the state of emergency and its implications,” said Nicolas Hervieu of the rights research
centre at Nanterre University.

The state of emergency has been extended six times, partly to protect major events such as last year's football European Championships hosted by France and this year's presidential elections.

It is the longest state of emergency in France since the 1954-62 Algerian war.

Authorities have carried out 4,300 searches and put 600 people under house arrest since November 2015, according to the interior ministry — sometimes in questionable circumstances.

In late 2015, “an environmentalists' squat was searched by dozens of police,” recalled Raphael Kempf, lawyer for the activists targeted in the

“There was absolutely no link with terrorism.”

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has argued France cannot go on under a state of emergency forever, calling the new law a “lasting response to a
lasting threat”.

And proponents have argued that the legislation is designed solely for tackling the terror threat — not for launching raids on eco-warriors.

Critics in France and beyond, however, are not convinced.

“The normalisation of emergency powers has grave consequences for the integrity of rights protection in France, both within and beyond the context of counter-terrorism,” UN human rights expert Fionnuala Ni Aolain warned.

France has progressively tightened its legal arsenal to tackle terror threats since 2012 with around 10 different laws, leading Macron's predecessor
Francois Hollande to claim police had all the powers they needed before he left office in May.

Speaking about the first state of emergency declared in November 2015, Macron himself said it was justifiable “only because it is temporary.”

Lawyer Daoud expressed regret that campaigners have not managed to “spark dialogue and debate” over the changes, with citizens apparently willing to accept tighter limits on liberties in the name of security, after two years of bloodshed.

“It's an unprecedented decline in our public and private freedoms,” he said.

“If a democracy as old as this deals with the conflict between liberty and security in this way, in casting aside all the principles which govern our
penal procedures, there is something to worry about in Europe and beyond.”

by AFP's Marie Wolfrom


US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.