France targets groups and websites with sweeping powers under anti-terrorism law


PARIS, Jan 26 (Reuters) – The French government this week announced it was shutting down an activist-run media outlet and a Muslim website deemed contrary to “national values”, the latest in a series of measures announced by groups advocates and lawyers. undermine democratic freedoms.

Following a violent protest against the far-right in Nantes, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he would shut down “Nantes Révoltée”, a local media platform, which had relayed information about the protest.

A few days earlier, he had announced his intention to close the site “La Voie Droite”, which publishes Islamic religious content.

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The government is increasingly using its powers to shut down organizations or groups. In the past two years, there have been 12 such arrests, compared to seven between 2016 and 2019, according to French public archives.

Before dissolving an association, the Ministry of the Interior informs the person concerned, who has 15 days to respond with his counter-arguments. Then, once the decree is published, the organization can take the case to the Council of State, an administrative court.

To date, Nante Révoltée says it has not received any communication from the Ministry of the Interior concerning its closure.

Of the organizations closed by decree since January 2020, seven are linked to Muslims, including mosque management associations, a humanitarian organization and anti-Islamophobia groups, records show. Three far-right groups have been shut down.

Announcing plans to close ‘Nantes Révoltée’ to members of the French parliament on Tuesday, Darmanin described it as an ‘ultra-left’ group that had repeatedly called for violence against the state and the police as it approached of the weekend event. , during which three people were arrested, shop windows were smashed and fights broke out.

Raphael Kempf, a lawyer for Nantes Révoltée, said a website sharing information about an event could not be held responsible for what happened there.

“We see a government using this legal tool to attack voices that criticize them,” Kempf said, adding that the government now has increased powers under 2021 legislation that makes incitement to violence a ground. of dissolution. Previously, groups themselves had to be armed or violent.


The 2021 legislation was introduced in response to violent attacks France has seen in recent years, including the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in 2020 and the 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

But some lawyers and campaign groups say authorities are going too far to muzzle critical voices and target anyone practicing a form of Islam not sanctioned by the state.

During a television interview on Sunday, Darmanin announced that the Islamic website “La Voie Droite” would be shut down under the 2021 law for “content inciting hatred and calling for jihad”.

The Right Path denied publishing such content, saying in a statement that “when we encourage Muslims to respect the texts, we oppose any type of threat or legitimization of violence”.

The French Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

In another step that has alarmed some rights groups, the French government has stepped up censorship of internet content deemed to be linked to terrorism or justifying violence under a 2014 law. Officials say it is necessary to stem violent attacks.

Noémie Levain, a lawyer with digital rights organization La Quadrature du Net, said these powers were open to abuse.

“The decision-making process is opaque,” she said. “[The police] can designate something Muslim as problematic even if it’s not violent, they can do the same with something activist that calls for protest.”

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Reporting by Layli Foroudi; Editing by Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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