Macron's security law plan under fire as state of emergency criticised

France's highest legal body has ordered a redraft of a much-used measure in the country's state of emergency as President Emmanuel Macron's government prepares to turn several of its provisions into law.

Soldiers on patrol at Paris's Eiffel Tower last year
Soldiers on patrol at Paris's Eiffel Tower last year Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

The Constitutional Council found that the state of emergency gives too much power to prefects – representatives of the state in a department or region – to ban individuals “seeking to obstruct the authorities’ activities” from certain places at certain times and said that it should be amended to protect individual freedoms.

The state of emergency, which has been extended five times, was introduced after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

But the provision has been used 639 times to prevent people taking part in demonstrations that have no connection with terrorism, in most cases protests against the last government’s labour reform and on climate change, according to UK-based rights group Amnesty International.

The plaintiff who brought the case to the Constitutional Court’s attention was banned from parts of Paris on the day of a major march against labour reform last year.

The top court complained that the measure can be used without “necessarily being justified by the need to prevent a breach of public order”, since the suspicion of “obstruction” is sufficient reason to issue such an order.

Draft security law sparks rights row

The government plans to extend the state of emergency again in July, although when he was elected Macron said he hoped to do away with it eventually.

But the government's draft of a new security bill, leaked to Le Monde newspaper, would make several currently temporary measures permanent.

The bill would enable prefects or the interior minister to implement a number of controversial measures without a judge's permission, as long as they connected to the fight against terrorism.

They include house arrests, searches of premises, the closure of places of worship and the declaration of "protection and security zones" where police could carry out indentity checks and body or vehicles searches, the paper reports.

It also proposes that suspects placed under house arrest could be ordered to provide police with their passwords for mobile phones, internet connections and social media and that the interior minister can order the electronic tagging of suspects.

Rights campaigners slammed the proposals, the Human Rights League commenting that "France would enter permanently into a regime of exception", while Amnesty declared that the authorities "have learned no lessons from the serious excesses brought about by the state of emergency".

Magistrates' unions promised to fight the "scandalous" plan, although one police union has welcomed it.

PM stresses anti-terror fight

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe refused to comment on the leaked draft before it has been discussed by the cabinet, which should be on 21 June.

But he said that the government wants to give more powers to the police "exclusively in connection with the struggle against terrorism, in condtions clearly defined by the law".

That did not reassure hard-left former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who claimed that "it is not true that adminstrative heavy-handedness makes us more efficient".

And the far-right National Front accused the government of wanting to make the state of emergency permanent, while not tackling the "basic problem, which is not simply terrorism but radical Islamism".

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