French parliament to vote on anti-extremism bill

The French parliament on Tuesday votes on a bill to battle Islamist extremism, which the state argues is needed to bolster the secular system but critics say breaches religious freedom.

French parliament to vote on anti-extremism bill
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to present his strategy to fight "separatism", on October 2nd 2020.. Photo: AFP

With an eye on 2022 elections, President Emmanuel Macron has championed the bill which seeks to tighten rules on issues ranging from religious teaching, online hate to polygamy.

It has been debated in a highly charged atmosphere in France after three attacks late last year by extremists including the beheading in October of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The law is dubbed the anti-separatism bill as ministers fear Islamists are creating communities that reject France's secular identity and laws, as well as its values such as equality between the sexes.

ANALYSIS: What is actually contained in France's new law against Islamic extremism?

France, home to Europe's largest Muslim community, is still shaken by the succession of massacres committed by Islamist militants from January 2015 that left hundreds dead.

The National Assembly lower house is expected to vote on the legislation in the afternoon after a total of 135 hours of debates that saw some 313 amendments adopted.

Macron's ruling party has a large working majority, meaning the legislation is expected to pass, but the upper house Senate will also examine the draft legislation in the coming months and could amend it.

'Hostile ideology'

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said after the final debate on Saturday that the bill “provides concrete responses to… the development of radical Islam, an ideology hostile to the principles and values on which the Republic is founded.”

Paty's killing prompted the inclusion of the specific crimes of online hate speech and divulging personal information on the internet that could be used to harm a public-sector worker.

Paty was the subject of an online hate campaign started by a parent of a child at his school who objected to him showing the Prophet cartoons.

READ ALSO How publishing Prophet Muhammed cartoons has become a quasi-religious act in France

Under the legislation, doctors will also be fined or jailed if they perform a virginity test on girls, while it also extends sanctions on polygamy.

The state will also have far greater powers to close down places of worship that are found to air “theories or ideas” that “provoke hate or violence towards a person or people.”

One of the most contentious articles concerns home schooling, with the rules considerably sharpened to require official authorisation on grounds of health or handicap for children to learn at home.

But for the right-wing opposition The Republicans (LR) the bill does not go far enough, notably by not restricting the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in spaces like universities.

“It's a small law on a big subject,” said LR MP Julien Ravier. The right, which has the majority in the Senate, may try to toughen it further when it enters the upper house. 

Nearly 200 people demonstrated in Paris on Sunday against the bill accusing it of “reinforcing discrimination against Muslims”.

A US envoy on religious freedom last year criticised the bill as “heavy-handed” and it has sparked unusually critical coverage in English-language media, even prompting Macron to write personally to the Financial Times to defend it.

Analysts have said Macron, who came to power in 2017 as a centrist reformer, has noticeably tacked to the right over the last months as he scents that his 2022 presidential reelection battle will come down to a run-off duel with far right National Rally (RN) leader Marine Le Pen.

OPINION The French interior minister is becoming a danger to Macron and France's reputation

Le Pen, who has proposed banning the Muslim headscarf in all public places in France, said at the debate she was “disappointed” by the scope of the bill.

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‘A good thing’ for footballers to express values, says France’s PM

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne - speaking in Berlin - said that footballers should be allowed to express their values, amid controversy over FIFA's stance against the 'OneLove' armband on the pitch.

'A good thing' for footballers to express values, says France's PM

“There are rules for what happens on the field but I think it’s a good thing for players to be able to express themselves on the values that we obviously completely share, while respecting the rules of the tournament,” said Borne at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.

Germany’s players made headlines before Wednesday’s shock loss to Japan when the team lined up for their pre-match photo with their hands covering their mouths after FIFA’s threat to sanction players wearing the rainbow-themed armband.

Seven European nations, including Germany, had previously planned for their captains to wear the armband, but backed down over FIFA’s warning.

Following Germany’s action, Wales and the Netherlands have since come out to say they would not mirror the protest.

Borne’s visit to Germany was her first since she was named to her post in May.

Following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the two leaders signed an agreement for “mutual support” on “guaranteeing their energy supplies”.

Concrete measures outlined in the deal include France sending Germany gas supplies as Berlin seeks to make up for gaping holes in deliveries from Russia.

Germany meanwhile would help France “secure its electricity supplies over winter”, according to the document.

France had since 1981 been a net exporter of electricity to its neighbours because of its nuclear plants. But maintenance issues dogging the plants have left France at risk of power cuts in case of an extremely cold winter.

The two leaders also affirmed their countries’ commitment to backing Ukraine “to the end of” its conflict with invaders Russia.