French

Macron secures second term, climate movement targeted via Separatism bill

Macron secures second term, climate movement targeted via Separatism bill
Protests over election results (Kiran Ridley via Getty Images).

Introduction

While President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected for a second term in April 2022, the presidential coalition Ensemble lost the absolute majority in the National Assembly following legislative elections in June 2022. Ensemble obtained the relative majority with 246 seats, while the left-wing coalition Nouvelle Union Populaire écologique e sociale (NUPES) obtained 142 seats and the far-right party Rassemblement national 89. In May 2022, former Minister of Labour Elisabeth Borne was nominated as Prime Minister of Macron’s second government and is the second woman to hold this role in the history of the 5th French Republic.

European Institutions raise concerns about rule of law

On 13th July 2022, the European Commission presented the 2022 Rule of Law Report that contains a synthesis of both the rule of law in the EU and an assessment of the situation in each Member State. The chapter on France puts forward recommendations concerning the digitalisation of justice and adequate staffing for the justice system, measures to combat high-level corruption and rules to improve transparency for lobbying activities and media ownership.

To complement the findings of the Commission’s Rule of Law Report, the Greens/EFA MEPs Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield and Philippe Lamberts presented a study to assess the resilience of France’s rule of law system against autocratic shock. The study, coordinated by Professors Laurent Pech and Sébastien Platon, draws on the examples of Poland and Hungary to inquire about the vulnerabilities of the French legal system that a new authoritarian majority could exploit to achieve constitutional capture. The hypothesis for an authoritarian government in power assumes that both the President of the Republic and the majority in the National Assembly belong to the same party. This was not the case in the legislative elections of June 2022, where no party obtained an absolute majority of seats in the National Assembly. Overall, the French institutional system is sufficiently well-equipped with constitutional and legal guarantees to ensure the balance of power. On the other hand, due to the prevailing role of the State in the French tradition, non-institutional checks and balances would be relatively weak in the face of an authoritarian majority. The study questions the overwhelming dependence from the State, the limited pluralism of media and the traditionally hostile institutional stance towards civil society. In particular, the study found that “there has been an increase in the power of the administration over associations in the context of security and Islamophobic policies” (translation from French), including the so-called Separatism Bill.

Association

Civil society reacts to sanction threats under Separatism Bill

Civil society has proved to be resilient in the face of restrictive laws.

On 13th September 2022, the prefect of the Vienne department sent letters to public authorities in the Poitiers area urging them to withdraw their funding of “Village des Alternatives”, a festival organised by Alternatiba, a grassroots movement fighting against climate change and social inequalities. According to the prefect, the scheduled activities would allegedly breach the “contract of republican commitment”, a requirement introduced by the so-called Separatism Bill (see previous updates). Alternatiba Poitiers planned to organise civil disobedience workshops in the context of actions against climate change.

The “contract of republican commitment” is compulsory whenever an association applies for a grant from an administrative authority or when a body responsible for the management of public industrial and commercial services requests State approval or recognition of public utility or wishes to host a civic service volunteer. In turn, the association commits itself to respect the principles of liberty, equality, fraternity, human dignity, of the secular nature of the State and to refrain from any action undermining public order.

In his letter, the prefect wrote that “Associations must not undertake or incite any action that is manifestly contrary to the law, violent or likely to cause serious disturbance to public order. The association undertakes not to incite hatred or violence towards anyone and not to condone such actions.” (unofficial translation from French).

Alternatiba Poitiers reacted to the letter stating that civil disobedience is non-violent by its very nature and serves to enable freedom of expression and citizen engagement in an area of common concern like climate change.

The mayor of Poitiers, one of the recipients of the letter, criticised the request of the prefect as disproportionate and offered her support to Alternatiba, refusing to defund the activities. The urban community of Poitiers published a press release where it stated its ongoing support to initiatives aimed at fighting against climate change. On the other hand, an opposition group in the city council agreed with the stance taken by the prefect that action against climate change cannot take place outside the law.

In a press release the Mouvement Associatif, the biggest network of French civil society, showed its solidarity with Alternatiba and argued that the case illustrates well the negative consequences of the application of the “contract of republican commitment” on freedom of association.

“This pact of trust between the State and associations, which we support, cannot be fully developed unless the concerns of the actors and partners of associative life regarding the Republican Commitment Contract are taken into account and responses are provided,” Claire Thoury, President of the Mouvement Associatif (translation from French).

The festival, including the workshops on civil disobedience, were successfully held from 16th to 18th September 2022.

Far-right mayor bans civil rights NGO from local festival

At the beginning of June 2022, the National Rally mayor Franck Briffaut in Villers-Cottarêts banned the civil rights NGO Ligue de Droits de L’homme (The League of Human Rights -LDH) from a local folklore festival where it was set to present its alphabetisation activities and host an international cuisine stand. The LDH called out this ban as an attack on freedom of association and expression and recalled other episodes of intimidation coming from the far-right.

CSOs call out disproportionate use of force by the police, launch legal action against impunity

Since the beginning of 2022, nine people have been shot dead by police officers during roadside checks. LDH is demanding the repeal of Article L.435-1 of the Internal Security Code, the provision that facilitates the use of weapons in case of refusal to comply with police orders. According to LDH, the provision has created a dangerous legal uncertainty concerning the use of weapons. 

In July 2022, the president of LDH, Patrick Baudouin, addressed an open letter to French MPs putting forward recommendations to restore citizens’ trust in law enforcement authorities and avoid disproportionate or unnecessary force by the police. Besides repealing Article L. 435-1 of the Internal Security Code, the recommendations include amending the draft “orientation and programming bill of the Ministry of the Interior” for greater Parliamentary scrutiny over weapon purchase and usage and compulsory reporting by the Ministry of Interior of any death or physical harm by a person in authority using a weapon, creating an independent authority for police activity oversight, and pursuing the constitutional reform initiated to make the public prosecutor’s office independent of the executive.

To end the impunity of law enforcement authorities for disproportionate use of force, NGOs LDH, ACAT (Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture) and the Parisian Observatory of Public Liberties have decided to join forces with the French Lawyers’ Association and the French Judges’ Association to launch a legal action which they presented together on 26th September 2022. Their goal is to achieve an evolution of the regulation on the identification of police officers for improved prosecution of unlawful violence. In France, police and gendarmerie officers are identified by an identity and organisation reference number, also known as "RIO". However, the Parisian Observatory on Public Liberties, which conducts monitoring in the field of police practices during public demonstrations, has documented that in the majority of 70 monitored cases, the RIO number was absent and identification of officers was difficult or impossible.

In a joint press release, the organisations explained that they had initially addressed an informal appeal to the Ministry of Interior in July 2022 to make the rules for wearing the RIO number more binding. After a tacit rejection of the request, they are bringing the matter before the administrative judge. They are seeking to obtain an order that the RIO number be visible in all circumstances, which would make it easier to remember, and that effective disciplinary sanctions be taken for failure to wear the identification number or for concealment of the face.

#MaRueMesDroits: Class action against racial profiling

Several NGOs launched a class action before the French Council of State to obtain concrete, effective and permanent measures to put an end to racial profiling. 

They are asking for a modification of the legal framework on police controls which gives too much discretionary power to the police and opens the way to arbitrariness and discrimination. They also demand greater transparency on the number of controls carried out, greater public and independent oversight over police activities and greater accountability in cases of abuse.

NGOs report police violence against migrants

Disproportionate use of force by the police has been documented as a border control and migration management practice too. Thanks to the monitoring activities by NGOs Auberge des Migrants, Utopia 56 and Human Rights Observers in the field, the public prosecutor’s office of Boulogne-Sur-Mer opened an inquiry to investigate alleged violence by public authorities on migrant persons.

According to the account of Human Rights Observers, during the night between 22nd and 23rd August 2022, two migrant persons were beaten by police officers in Calais as they were trying to reach the UK.

NGOs seek to annul orders that prevent food and water distribution to migrants in Calais

On 20th September 2022, a case brought by a coalition of 13 NGOs was heard before the administrative tribunal of Lille as part of their legal action to seek the annulment of orders issued by the prefect to prevent the distribution of food and water to migrants in the streets of Calais.

In a joint statement, the coalition expressed hope that justice will acknowledge that NGO activities are an important expression of the humanitarian principle from which there can be no derogation.

NGO report documents crackdown on Muslims in France

“We are beginning to spread terror” a report by CAGE, an advocacy organisation which aims to tackle Islamophobia, unveils the policy of “systematic obstruction” carried out by the French government since 2017 against Muslim groups and individuals in France.

The report criticises the distorted use of counter-terrorism laws and assimilation policies coupled with “radicalisation” and “separatism” narratives in institutional language and the media which stigmatise the French Muslim community. The so-called Separatism Bill, entered into force in August 2021, and the “Imam’s Charter”, presented in late 2020 by the government, are described as examples of the “systematic obstruction” policy and its effort to shape a government-approved version of Islam.

The report shows how Muslims’ freedom of religion and opinion are restricted and redefined as a result of the state’s emphasis on tackling “Islamist separatism”. According to the findings of this report, numerous Muslim organisations have been dissolved, while Muslim schools and mosques have been closed as part of a State-led strategy.

Right to a healthy environment recognised as legally enforceable fundamental right

On 20th September 2022, the Council of State recognised that the right to a healthy environment, contained in the Environment Charter, which is part of the French constitutionality block, is a legally enforceable fundamental right. This means any person who is personally and directly affected by the action or failure of the public authority to act, may obtain interim measures from the administrative judge to prevent or stop environmental damage.

The French NGO, Notre Affaire à Tous, engaged in climate change litigation, welcomed this decision as historical.

Related to climate and environmental rights, and as an example of synergies between CSOs and cities in the fight against climate change, the municipalities of Paris, Poitiers and New York have joined a coalition of 16 local communities and six associations in a case launched before the tribunal of Paris by the NGO Notre Affaire à Tous aiming to raise Total's climate ambitions.

Peaceful Assembly

Protests following Macron’s re-election

After the results of the presidential election were announced on 24th April 2022, far-left protesters took to the streets in Mayor-run French cities. In Paris, Rennes and Toulouse some incidents were reported as police clashed with protesters. In Rennes, several demonstrators were arrested and one of them was taken into custody. In Paris, the police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Administrative tribunal suspends ‘anti-gatherings’ decrees

On 19thJuly 2022, the mayor of Roubaix issued four decrees aimed at prohibiting, on a wide perimeter of the municipality, any gathering aimed at occupying public space in a prolonged manner and likely to cause sound nuisance or disturb public order. The prohibition applied from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 10 pm and extended until 30th September 2022.The LDH brought an action for annulment before the administrative judge along with a request for a temporary suspension injunction. The request for interim measures was granted and the decrees were suspended due to the disproportionate nature of the measure.

Judicial inquiry investigates crowd-control methods during a “Yellow Vests” demonstration in 2019

A judicial enquiry was opened in Paris to investigate the overall legality of crowd-control methods employed by the police under the authority of police prefect Didier Lallement during a “Yellow Vests” demonstration on 16th November 2019 (see previous update) following a complaint presented by two activists.

A report published by the Parisian Observatory of Public Liberties corroborates the allegations contained in the complaint filed with the investigating judge. The case, initially dismissed by the Paris public prosecutor’s office, is supported by the LDH.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also documented cases of police violence against journalists in Paris during the mandate of police prefect Didier Lallement, who was replaced on 20th July 2022. A total of 70 attacks were documented against journalists by police between March 2019 and July 2022. RSF filed complaints related to10 journalists who were victims of police violence in the Paris region while Lallement was police prefect. Of these, six were dismissed, one is still under investigation, and none have so far given rise to a trial.

CSOs march for safe abortion

On 28th September 2022, on International Safe Abortion day, CSOs took to the streets to demand that safe abortion is recognised as a fundamental right.

In a press release, the LDH stated that:

“In France, access to abortion is prevented by the closure of local maternity clinics and therefore abortion centres, the reduction in the budgets allocated to feminist associations, the double conscience clause which persists and the time limits which are more restrictive than in other European countries and still force women to have an abortion abroad! A law of February 2022 confirmed that midwives can perform "instrumental" abortions, but the implementing decrees have still not been published!" (unofficial translation from French)

Mobilisations in several French cities in solidarity with Iranian women

Following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa “Jina” Amini on 13th September 2022 after she was detained by the morality police in Tehran, Iran for not wearing her headscarf properly, people have taken to the streets in France to show their solidarity with Iranian women and to denounce the Iranian regime’s repression. In Paris, during a protest on 25th September 2022 where over four thousand people participated, the French police used tear gas to prevent protesters from reaching the Iranian Embassy. Demonstrations also took place in Strasbourg, Grenoble and Poitiers.

Expression

Adequate funding mechanism needed to ensure democratic role of public media

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging the French government to create an appropriate funding mechanism for France’s public service media, France Télévisions, after its licence fee was scrapped and replaced with a VAT levy by the 2022 Budget Law.

“Eliminating the public broadcast media’s main source of funding without offering an alternative worthy of their role in our democracy is a makeshift approach. Such improvisation is unacceptable given the importance of what is at stake, namely independent and pluralist news coverage. We urge the government to find a permanent funding solution that protects the public broadcast media from political pressure, and we ask parliamentarians to quickly enshrine it in legislation”, said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

Journalists covering elections face obstruction, fines and intimidation

  • On 2nd April 2022, journalists from independent news websites Blast, QG and Reporterre were refused access to President and candidate Emmanuel Macron's only political rally during the presidential election campaign. Blast finally managed to get in after a two-hour wait. QG journalis Adrien AdcaZz, who was in the public space in front of the meeting building filming supporters with the aim of doing interviews, was escorted out of the metro station by policemen.
  • On 10th April 2022, journalist Emmanuelle Anizon of Nouvel Obs was ticketed 135 euros by the police while following "Yellow Vests" supporters during the night of the French election as part of her work, despite showing her press card to justify her presence on the scene. After trying to get her identity papers back, the journalist was pushed aside and slammed against a wall by one of the police officers. She was eventually fined, along with the other “Yellow Vests” supporters, with “illegal protest”. After the article was published on the newspaper's website, the Paris police headquarters told the newspaper that it would withdraw the fine and apologised to the journalist, stating that the police had not recognised the journalist's press card.
  • On 10th April 2022, the national public radio broadcaster France Inter was hacked by a French anarchist movement called Radio Anti-France while broadcasting during the election night after the first round of the French presidential elections. The programme was interrupted for about an hour by a pre-recorded anti-establishment message.
  • On 24th April 2022, journalist Fany Boucaud from radio France Bleu Creuse was attacked by a man while covering the second round of the French presidential election in Bourganeuf, in the Creuse region. The journalist was following far-right party activists of the 'Rassemblement National' when an activist started to insult her and then threw a chair with metal bars at her, hitting her but not injuring her. The journalist filed a complaint of violence with use of a weapon. In a statement, Radio France condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms" and offered "its full support and legal assistance to the journalist".
  • In June 2022, journalist Djaffar Ait Aoudia, who works for investigative media lecorrespondant.net, and his wife, a lawyer in Draguignan, received death threats from far-right party Rassemblement National Deputy Philippe Schreck. On the eve of the French legislative elections, the online portal published an article about the embezzlement of funds by Philippe Schreck in his role as former president of the Bar Association in the town of Draguignan in the Var department. The journalist filed a police complaint over the threats. The French National Union of Journalists (SNJ) denounced “odious practices that tend to muzzle the press”.
  • On 22nd August 2022, Toufik de Planoise, press correspondent for Kawa TV was assaulted by far-right activists in Besançon as he was leaving a trial involving far-right activists for violence committed in March 2022 on the fringes of a far-left political rally. The journalist filed a police complaint.

French media outlets under legal threats for defamation

Mediapart, Reflets and ASI are being sued for defamation by the Avisa Partners company which specialises in advocacy, cybersecurity and online influence and was cited in several investigations over ghost lobbying and disinformation serving CAC40 companies and dictators' interests, such as Congo and Kazakhstan.

In addition, in a series of three investigations published in ASI, journalists identified numerous small online media and blogs using Avisa Partners' content and evidenced how established traditional media were infiltrated by disinformation campaigns published in op-eds signed by experts and politicians.

Avisa Partners has also served formal notices on four other media outlets - Next Inpact, l'ADN and Miroir du Nord - to remove certain references in journalistic investigations of the group's activities.

Journalist arrested and charged over anti-terrorism investigation

On 22nd June 2022, journalist Alex Jordanov was taken into custody for 48 hours and charged with disclosure of defence secrets and concealment of breach of confidentiality in Paris. This arrest follows the journalist's investigation into certain shortcomings of the Directorate General of Internal Intelligence (DGSI) published in a book in 2019. In "The shadow wars of the DGSI" the journalist described the methods of the police in the fight against terrorism in France. He is currently being accused of disclosing details that could allow the identification of agents and sources. In 2020, Jordanov had already given testimony to the judicial police in an open hearing, following a complaint from the DGSI.

The publisher, Yannick Dehée, states that the book was in fact reviewed by intelligence specialists in order to avoid any disclosure. He said:

"The pressure exerted on Alex Jordanov to hand over his sources flouts the elementary rights of the press and creates a very dangerous precedent for the functioning of our democracy".
“Such a procedure, three years after the book was published, seems both disproportionate and incongruous. It is to be feared that the authorities' aim with this police custody is to intimidate the journalist. If the confidentiality of sources is not guaranteed in a country, if it is undermined by actions such as these, citizens will be deprived of their right to have unofficial information”, said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire (unofficial translation from French).

Police prevented journalists from interviewing environmental activists

On 25th May 2022, Vert le Média journalist Justine Prados, Reporterre journalist Alexandre Reza-Kokabi and LCI journalist Paul Larrouturou were denied access to environmental activists blocking Total's General Assembly in Paris which shareholders were due to attend. The three journalists were present in the street in front of the building to interview activists and Total shareholders. Mapping Media Freedom reports that Justine Prados and Alexandre Reza-Kokabi were asked to leave the area to conduct an accreditation check and were unable to continue the interviews despite their press cards. Paul Larrouturou was also prevented from interviewing activists. The police justified the obstruction by saying that they were under orders not to let journalists into the facility. The French journalists' union Syndicat National des Journalistes (SNJ) denounced the violation of the freedom to inform.

Bullet hit a window at France Télévisions’ culture service office

On 26th September 2022, two shots were heard, of which one hit one of the windows of public service media France Télévisions’ culture department in Paris. An investigation into attempted murder has been opened. It is unclear so far if the media outlet was targeted or if the bullet hit the window by chance. France Télévisions President Delphine Ernotte announced that the security around the building had been reinforced.

Court rules attempted search of Médiapart’s premises in 2019 as unlawful

In a ruling on 6th July 2022, the Nanterre court condemned the state for the attempted search of Mediapart's premises ordered by the Paris public prosecutor’s office on 4th February 2019, deeming it "neither necessary in a democratic society nor proportionate to the objective pursued".

On 14th February 2019, two prosecutors, escorted by three police officers including a commissioner of the criminal brigade, went to Mediapart’s premises to carry out a search. The search was ordered after Mediapart investigated President Macron’s former aide Alexandre Benalla, who has been found guilty of taking part in the street clashes on 2018 International Workers’ Day in Paris. As this search was not previously authorised by a liberty and custody judge (JLD), Mediapart journalists legitimately objected to it.

The judgement found that the attempted search had an “intimidatory effect” and was disproportionate as other, less coercive measures were at the disposal of the prosecutor’s office to obtain information on the case.