In the Name of Freedom, France Cracks Down on Speech; Considers a US-style Patriot Act to Spy on Citizens
January 19, 2015
Lori Hinnant / Associated Press &
French authorities said 54 people had been arrested for hate speech and defending terrorism. The crackdown came as Charlie Hebdo's defiant new issue sold out before dawn -- defending the 'right' to engage in provocative and insulting lampoons. While President Hollande asked the public to practice tolerance and "protect Muslims," the French government announced it was sending an aircraft carrier to the Mideast to work more closely with the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants.
France Arrests 54 for 'Defending Terror'
Lori Hinnant / Associated Press
PARIS (January 14, 2015) -- France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism and announced Wednesday it was sending an aircraft carrier to the Mideast to work more closely with the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants.
Authorities said 54 people had been arrested for hate speech and defending terrorism in the last week. The crackdown came as Charlie Hebdo's defiant new issue sold out before dawn around Paris, with scuffles at kiosks over dwindling copies of the satirical weekly that fronted the Prophet Muhammad anew on its cover.
After terror attacks killed 20 people in Paris last week, including three gunmen, President Francois Hollande said the situation "justifies the presence of our aircraft carrier." One of the gunmen had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group.
France is already carrying out airstrikes against the extremist group in Iraq. Hollande spoke aboard the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to members of France's military.
Since the attacks, France has deployed 10,000 troops and 120,000 security forces in an area the size of Texas to protect sensitive sites, including Jewish schools and synagogues, mosques and travel hubs.
France has been tightening security and searching for accomplices since the terror attacks began, but none of the 54 people mentioned Wednesday have been linked to the attacks. That's raising questions about whether Hollande's Socialist government is impinging on the very freedom of speech that it so vigorously defends when it comes to Charlie Hebdo.
Among those detained was Dieudonne, a popular yet controversial comic who has repeated convictions for racism and anti-Semitism.
Like many European countries, France has strong laws against hate speech, especially anti-Semitism in the wake of the Holocaust.
In a message distributed to all French prosecutors and judges, the Justice Ministry laid out the legal basis for rounding up those who defend the Paris terror attacks as well as those responsible for racist or anti-Semitic words or acts. The order did not mention Islam.
A top leader of Yemen's al-Qaida branch claimed responsibility Wednesday for the Charlie Hebdo attack, saying in a video the massacre came in "vengeance for the prophet." The newspaper had received repeated threats previously for posting caricatures of Muhammad.
The core of the irreverent newspaper's staff died a week ago when gunmen stormed its offices, killing 12 people and igniting three days of bloodshed around Paris that left 17 victims dead. The attacks ended Friday when security forces killed both gunmen and an accomplice who separately seized hostages at a kosher grocery.
Working out of borrowed offices, Charlie Hebdo employees who survived put out the issue that appeared Wednesday with a print run of 3 million -- more than 50 times the paper's usual circulation. After the weekly sold out, kiosk operators told people to return Thursday for a second run.
French police say as many as six members of the terror cell may still be at large, including a man seen driving a car registered to the widow of one of the gunmen. Officials say the widow is now in Syria. There has been no word on the whereabouts of the driver or the car.
Is France About to Get Its Own Patriot Act?
Melodie Bouchaud / Vice News
(January 14, 2015) -- As France reels in the wake of last week's deadly attacks in Paris, the government is seeking to implement a raft of new counter-terror measures, with some lawmakers even proposing the instatement of a French version of the US' Patriot Act. But rights advocates say that the country is dancing a fine line between the need for national security and its long-cherished liberty.
On Tuesday, the French parliament's National Assembly spontaneously broke into La Marseillaise, the country's national anthem, following a minute of silence for the 17 dead victims of the Paris attacks. In a speech to the assembly, Prime Minister Manuel Valls praised the police response and reiterated his commitments to secularism and the Republic, as well as to fighting anti-Semitism.
"We must respond to this exceptional situation with exceptional measures," Valls said, adding that any response to the attacks would be enacted under the rule of law.
Valls then called for better air travel monitoring of "high-risk passengers," closer monitoring of persons convicted under the country's anti-terrorism measures, and announced a new government initiative, piloted in Paris' Fresnes prison last November, to isolate radical Islamists in French jails.
At the end of his address, Valls received a standing ovation.
Al Qaeda in Yemen releases video claiming responsibility for 'Charlie Hebdo' attack. Read more here.
Valls's speech came just a few days after the Republican rallies that assembled some 4 million marchers throughout the country, and some compared his comments to George Bush's "war on terror" speech following the 9/11 attacks. Responses to the PM's proposed measures have been divided.
Earlier on Sunday, French politician Valérie Pécresse, a higher education and research minister under former president Nicolas Sarkozy, took to Twitter to call for the enactment of a French "Patriot Act" -- the 2001 US legislation aimed at combatting terrorism that has previously come under fire in France for violating civil liberties.
Il faudra bien entendu un Patriot Act à la française. Il faut une réponse ferme et globale #renseignement #securité #laicite #education
In a televised interview with France 2 Monday, former Interior Minister Claude Guéant spoke about the country's new preventive counter-terrorism measures, saying: "There are freedoms that can easily be abandoned."
Other French politicians, however, have voiced their concern over a French patriot act. In an opinion piece published by French daily Le Monde, former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin warned against the urge to implement "exceptional measures."
"Terror attacks encourage the renunciation of democratic values, and amid concerns for our security, the sacrifice of the liberties of others, at home or abroad," de Villepin said. "The spiral of suspicion created in the United States by the Patriot Act and the enduring legitimization of torture or illegal detention has today caused that country to lose its moral compass."
Former justice minister and high-profile criminal lawyer Robert Badinter, who successfully sponsored a bill for the abolition of the death penalty in France in 1981, told French daily Libération that, "You don't rely on exceptional laws and legislation to defend freedom against your enemies."
Funerals 2,000 miles apart mourn several victims of the French terror attacks. Read more here.
Advanced Security Measures
In December, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve revealed a staggering increase in French nationals who had joined or were planning to join the Islamic State. According to the minister, some 1,200 French nationals left or tried to leave the country since the beginning of 2014. In response, the French government toughened-up the country's terror laws in November.
The new legislation, which has already been the object of some controversy, enforces a travel ban on individuals suspected of planning acts of terrorism, enables authorities to block websites that glorify or instruct such acts, and prescribes punishment for individuals on the basis of assumed terrorism.
Now, the government is seeking to expand security measures again with a new action plan that could further encroach on ordinary citizens' personal liberties. The plan will be better understood in eight days when Cazeneuve submits a proposal to beef-up the country's intelligence services.
Generally speaking however, it appears the Internet will be a primary target.
At a gathering of 11 European interior ministers Sunday, Cazeneuve called for increased Internet surveillance of suspected terrorists that would involve "the flagging and removal of illegal content, and content that glorifies terrorism or incites violence or hatred."
In Tuesday's address, Valls also unveiled strengthened surveillance measures to monitor suspected terrorist activity on the Internet and on social media, which he said were commonly "used to recruit, to facilitate contact, and carry out attacks."
But social media users were quick to point out the paradox between France hosting an international rally to defend the values of freedom, and the government's call for measures that arguably limit civil liberties.
"How far must we go to purge French Internet browsing of all illegal content?" asked Benoît Thieulin, president of the French Digital Council. "Examine every Twitter feed to make sure there is no illegal content? Ask Facebook to compile a list of words to preemptively censor?"
Maitre Eolas ✏️ @Maitre_Eolas
Après 4 millions de Français dans la rue aux cris de "liberté !", on parle de PATRIOT Act à la française. #JeVousAiCompris
"If there is a message to be gleaned from the fight fought by the Charlie Hebdo journalists, it's that freedom is non-negotiable," Thieulin told VICE News. "Let us not forget the lessons of 9/11, which had terrible consequences. France, I hope, will not fall into that trap."
Thieulin also noted that recent increased web censorship in the UK, where Internet providers are now using a default filter for porn sites, has been met with a public backlash, as "close to 20 percent of the most popular websites are blocked by at least one telecommunications operator… only 4 percent of which are porn sites."
A "Considerable" Arsenal
After the Paris attacks, the government was forced to acknowledge its own intelligence failings, especially following reports that the Kouachi brothers, who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo, had been under surveillance for years. Authorities reportedly stopped monitoring the brothers in the summer of 2014, when they failed to gather sufficient evidence of terrorist activity to renew a four-month surveillance operation.
France still remains on high alert, as authorities claim that potential accomplices and members of an extremist cell linked to the attacks remain at large. This week, the government announced the deployment of 10,000 troops across the country to protect potential terrorist targets, half of which will be stationed outside Jewish schools and places of worship.
But Jean-François Daguzan, deputy director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, told VICE News that boosting police presence is not necessarily a solution to France's security woes.
"We are one of the best-armed states in terms of fighting against terror," Daguzan said. "We have a considerable arsenal... You can't just keep on increasing resources ad infinitum."
Everything we know so far about the men behind the Paris terror attacks. Read more here.
Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @meloboucho
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