French activists fear government overreach after attacks

AP News
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Posted: Dec 11, 2015 11:40 AM
French activists fear government overreach after attacks

PARIS (AP) — Searches without warrants and house arrests without judges' orders have skyrocketed in France since the Nov. 13 attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris, and activists and lawyers say they fear government overreach.

Police have carried out 2,575 searches and 354 people have been confined at home, allowed to leave only to report to police headquarters multiple times daily, since a nationwide state of emergency was imposed in the wake of the attacks.

"It's action-reaction," said Christophe Crepin, a French police union spokesman, calling the orders an urgent necessity.

The national human rights association has lodged a complaint with France's highest court. With nearly three months to go before the state of emergency is lifted — and the potential for an extension — many in France's legal system fear the situation is ripe for abuse.

They point in particular to about 25 house arrest orders for people who had planned to protest the climate talks being held just outside Paris. The orders expire this weekend, when the talks are expected to end.

Demonstrations are forbidden during the state of emergency, so about 50 people held what they called a flash protest Friday to draw attention to the issue. They set up tables with tea and soup outside the top administrative court, hoping to avoid arrests that might have come with chanting and marching. Since emergency house arrest orders don't have to be approved by a judge, an administrative panel is the only recourse.

"We came to support a comrade who has been under house arrest since Nov. 29 because he is an ecologist," said Nicolas Galepides, of the SUD union, a radical left group. "I'm flagged. I'm not violent. We are talking about social violence, our violence against the climate. It's beginning to get difficult to defend our liberties."

The French government said the state of emergency had worked to restore order after the chaos of the attacks, citing the discovery of 403 weapons — including 39 of military grade — and 202 drug seizures.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls acknowledged "two or three unacceptable cases."

"We have said that. That's democracy, that's transparence," he told RTL radio on Friday.

One man, who had been flagged as an Islamic radical but never convicted of links to violent extremists, was ordered to report four times to a police station an hour's journey from his home.

On Tuesday, he was 40 minutes late to his afternoon appointment because an administrative tribunal hearing his appeal was running behind schedule. As he arrived at the police station, he was cuffed and jailed overnight.

His door was broken down for the second time in 12 days. Investigators found nothing, but he was jailed a second night "just to mess with him," said his lawyer, Marie Dose.

"I'm filing a complaint if only to show that the police broke down his door even though they had the keys," she said.

The man is one of eight she represents who have been ordered under house arrest, including many known not for Islamic extremism but for "participating in violent protests," according to the Interior Ministry.

Some of the orders appear to be a mistake. But without judicial recourse, it's not possible to know the basis for them. The only option people have is to go before an administrative panel.

One man learned from a friend that police were looking for him on Nov. 15. He went that night to the police station and was immediately placed under house arrest, said his lawyer, Yvan Courrege d'Agnos.

A practicing Catholic with a tattoo of a hand wrapped in a rosary, the man's appeal before an administrative panel was denied because, Courrege d'Agnos said, "he could be a dangerous Islamic fundamentalist."

Courrege d'Agnos said the man from the Toulouse region knew someone who knew Mohamed Merah, the extremist who attacked a Jewish school and French paratroopers in 2012, but was baffled because he had never even met him.

"It's no longer a state of law, but a state of exception," Courrege d'Agnos said.

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Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant contributed.