FRENCH REPUBLIC: Unchecked clampdown on protests under guise of fighting terrorism

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6 Jun 2017
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Fight Against Terrorism and Human Rights

Powers designed to combat terrorism have been repeatedly misused to curb peaceful protest, a new report from Amnesty International has found.

A right not a threat: Disproportionate restrictions on demonstrations under the State of Emergency in France reveals that in France hundreds of unjustified measures restricting freedom of movement and the right to peaceful assembly have been issued under the guise of countering terrorism.

“Emergency laws intended to protect the French people from the threat of terrorism are instead being used to restrict their rights to protest peacefully,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s researcher on France.

“Under the cover of the state of emergency, rights to protest have been stripped away with hundreds of activists, environmentalists, and labour rights campaigners unjustifiably banned from participating in protests.”

Following the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015, France’s state of emergency, introduced a day later, has been renewed five times normalizing a range of intrusive measures. These include powers to ban demonstrations on vague grounds and prevent individuals attending protests. Last week, President Macron indicated that he will ask parliament to extend it for a sixth time.

The state of emergency allows prefects to ban any gathering as a precautionary measure on very broad and undefined grounds of ‘threat to public order’. These powers to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly have frequently been used disproportionately.

These restrictions breach the presumption under international law that a demonstration should be assumed to be peaceful unless authorities can show otherwise. Protests are being seen as a potential threat rather than a fundamental right.

In defiance of the restrictions under the state of emergency, many have continued to protest. However, those who braved the restrictions have frequently been met with unnecessary or excessive force by the security forces. Batons, rubber bullets and tear gas have been used against peaceful protesters who did not appear to threaten public order.

Whilst some of those involved in these public assemblies did engage in acts of violence, hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters suffered injuries at the hands of police. The Street Medics, an informal movement of first-aid workers, estimated that in Paris alone, around 1,000 protesters were injured by police during protests against the labour law reforms. Amnesty International has seen video evidence of four police officers kicking and beating Paco, a 16-year-old student, with batons before arresting him. Two witnesses told Amnesty International that Paco was not engaging in violence when he was attacked by the police.

Jean-François, a 20-year-old student who lost his left eye when he was shot by police with a rubber bullet, told Amnesty International: “I am very angry. Before that I tended to trust the police.”

“In the run-up to the election, Emmanuel Macron promised to protect the right to protest in France. Now he is President, he must turn his words into action. With the battle lines already being drawn between the new president and the unions on labour law reform, President Macron must stop the misuse of anti-terrorism powers to restrict peaceful protest and end France’s dangerous and dizzying spiral towards a permanent state of emergency.”

31 May 2017

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