France‘s parliament has adopted an anti-terrorism bill that will bolster police surveillance powers and make it easier to close mosques suspected of preaching hatred.
Before the vote, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb described France as being “still in a state of war” as authorities struggle to deal with the threat posed by foreign jihadists and homegrown militants.
Since 2015 more than 240 people have been killed in France in attacks by assailants who pledged allegiance to, or were inspired by, Islamic State .
The latest attack took place on Sunday when suspected Islamist Ahmed Hanachi cried ‘Allahu akbar’ before fatally stabbing two women outside Marseille’s main train station.
Legislators in the lower house adopted the bill by a margin of 415 to 127.
“Lawmakers realise that today’s threat is serious and that we must protect ourselves against terrorists. This must be done in a way that balances security and freedom,” Collomb told reporters after the vote. “This text will help protect French people.”
Emergency powers that were put in place after the Bataclan theatre attack in November 2015 have already played a significant role in enabling intelligence agencies to disrupt plots, according to the French government.
The new legislation would see many of those emergency powers enshrined in law, with limited oversight from the judiciary.
The interior ministry, without approval from a judge, will be able to set up security zones when there is a threat.
Security forces will be able to restrict the movement of people and vehicles in and out of these zones.
They will also have the power to carry out searches inside theses zones.
The interior ministry will have more power to shut down mosques and other places of worship, if intelligence agencies believe religious leaders are inciting violence in France or abroad or justifying acts of terrorism.
Police will also have greater powers to raid private property, if they have judicial approval, and there will be an increased ability to impose restrictions on people’s movements, including via electronic surveillance tags, if they are regarded as a threat to national security.
A parliamentary commission will now seek compromise on amendments put forward by the Senate and Assembly before a second reading and definitive vote, expected in mid-October.
President Emmanuel Macron, painted by rivals as weak on security during his election campaign, has already acted to bolster counter-terrorism efforts, creating a task force in June to improve coordination among France’s multiple intelligence agencies.
The anti-terrorism bill has met little resistance from the public, with people still on edge after the series of Islamist-related attacks, but rights campaigners say it will curb civil liberties.
“France has become so addicted to the state of emergency that it is now injecting several of these abusive measures into ordinary law,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
It added that French parliament members had chosen the politics of fear over the protection of hard-won civil liberties and urged parliament and the judiciary to closely monitor how the government uses its new power.
Nonetheless, some conservative opponents of Macron say the draft legislation, which is not as all-encompassing as the state of emergency currently allows, does not go far enough.
“We need to rearm the state,” right-wing lawmaker Eric Ciotti said in a radio interview before the vote. He called for authorities to have greater powers to expel foreigners who threaten public safety. (PLUSMILA.COM)