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French Senate extends state of emergency

February 9, 2016

The upper house of parliament in France has overwhelmingly approved a three-month extension to the state of emergency imposed in the wake of the Paris attacks last November.

Frankreich Terroranschläge Polizei
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Horcajuelo

France's upper house of parliament voted 316 to 28 to extend the state of emergency for the next three months, until late May.

It is one of a series of amendments to the constitution that President Hollande's socialist government wants to introduce. Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended plans to extend the state of emergency last week.

The state of emergency legislation dates to 1955, during the Algerian war. It was modified in November to strengthen police powers and waived the requirement for warrants in conducting searches, banning public gatherings and placing suspects under house arrests.

Frankreich Debatte Manuel Valls
Prime Minister Manuel Valls speaking during a debate last weekImage: picture alliance/abaca/H. Szwarc

Last November 130 people died in a series of terror attacks later claimed by the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS) group.

The state of emergency was imposed by executive decree in the wake of the attacks, then approved by parliament to continue until February 26. It authorizes the government representative of each French department to order warrantless searches at any time in any place "when there are serious reasons to believe that the place is frequented by a person whose behavior constitutes a threat to public order and security," and to access and copy digital data saved on electronic devices on the premises.

On Monday, France's lower house of parliament voted by 103 to 26 in support of the constitutional procedure for declaring a state of emergency. More than 400 parliamentarians were absent for the vote.

Later on Tuesday, lawmakers debated a more controversial measure of stripping French nationality from dual nationals convicted of terror offences.

Human rights concerns

The measures have been criticized by some rights' groups, including Human Rights Watch, which issued a statement on its website last week: "France has a responsibility to ensure public safety and try to prevent further attacks, but the police have used their new emergency powers in abusive, discriminatory, and unjustified ways,” said Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. "This abuse has traumatized families and tarnished reputations, leaving targets feeling like second-class citizens."

Frankreich Demonstration gegen die Verlängerung der Ausnahmezustand Zeit in Paris
In January, thousands of protesters in Pais called on 'Hollande-Valls, lift the State of Emergency.'Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Y. Valat

France's Human Rights League stated that very few of the raids carried out under the current state of emergency since November have led to terrorism-related probes. In figures released on Tuesday, 3,336 searches have been carried out under the state of emergency. Of these, 28 have led to such probes, the bulk of them for "defending terrorism."

John Dalhuisen, the director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia program, said that the French authorities' response was in many cases disproportionate. "While governments can use exceptional measures in exceptional circumstances, they must do so with caution," he said. "It is difficult to see how the French authorities can possibly argue that they represent a proportionate response to the threats they face."

jm/jil (AFP, dpa)