In a state of emergency that has lasted more than seven months, police have used their powers to stop more protests than terrorists.
By Emilie Oblivión .
With blood spilled by terrorist gunmen, striking workers shutting down oil refineries, and the migration crisis still ongoing, France is in turmoil. As if the terrorist attack was not bad enough, President François Hollande has kept the nation in a perpetual declared state of emergency. The police have been using the powers this gives them to suppress legitimate democratic dissent—but the labor movement, refusing to back down in their challenge to Hollande’s new anti-labor laws, continues to march in the street.
Last November saw the worst mass shooting in France’s peacetime history. The attack, carried out by a terrorist cell claiming allegiance to ISIS, took the lives of 130 people in the county’s capital. Just hours after the attack, the French government imposed a nationwide state of emergency—the first of its kind since 1961, when elements of the French military attempted a coup.
The state of emergency, which at the time of publication has been in effect for over seven months, grants security forces special powers to bypass judicial process. This includes the ability to restrict people’s freedom of movement, set curfews, ban mass gatherings, and establish “secure zones” where people are subject to close surveillance and stop-and-searches.
The ban on mass gatherings, which has been selectively enforced, includes protests and public demonstrations, theoretically to ensure the safety of the demonstrators in the face of the possibility of terrorists targeting scheduled assemblies of large numbers of people. The ban, however, remained in effect throughout the COP21 climate conference in Paris last December. The city was kept under lockdown: dozens of demonstrations by climate activists were dispersed, and hundreds of arrests were made. Author and activist Naomi Klein called the ban on demonstrations an “unprecedented restriction on civil society” at a time when the voices of all those affected should have been heard.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the state of emergency, however, is the ability for security forces to search any home without a warrant and put the occupants under what is essentially house arrest.
The initial state of emergency was only supposed to last 12 days. The French parliament, however, extended the measures. Most recently, on May 26, it voted to again lengthen the state of emergency, this time until late July. The argument behind the latest extension is that …
To read complete articles from the Summer 2016 issue, subscribe to the eReader edition.