Wednesday marks the final day of France’s state of emergency, imposed after terror attacks in Paris in November 2015 that killed 139 people.
The emergency decree will be replaced by a new law which President Macron said gives authorities the powers they need to “deal with terrorist threats while preserving citizens’ rights.”
“A promise kept: we are ending the state of emergency on November 1 while reinforcing the security of our fellow citizens,” Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter.
“The terrorist threat remains great,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb (above, left) said after Macron signed the bill into law.
MPs amended the government draft of the bill so that almost all the new powers will expire automatically at the end of 2020.
Macron gets tough
Macron, elected in May, had said he wanted to allow the emergency provisions to expire and in his campaign cited a parliamentary report showing the expansion of police powers had produced ‘modest’ results since the Paris attacks.
But since coming to power Macron has changed his position, reflecting both the pressures felt by the French authorities after Islamist-related terror attacks have left 239 dead in the past two years as well as a creeping perception that Macron is a weak president.
The government now claims the enhanced police powers have helped prevent more than 30 attacks.
Under the state of emergency, 11 religious centers have been shuttered “for incitement to commit terrorist acts” and 41 individuals have been placed under house arrest for harboring extremist sympathies.
France is a main target for the “Islamic State” (IS) in the West, with 30 percent of attacks or foiled plots related to the extremist group, according to research published by the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism.
Criticizm of the law
Critics say the law will leave the country in a permanent state of emergency. Rights groups, the radical left and the far-right National Front all argue the measures risk making emergency powers part of ordinary law.
The bill sparked a heated debate in the French parliament, with critics arguing that it will be used to persecute minorities, particularly Muslims, with impunity.
“France has become so addicted to the state of emergency that it is now injecting several of these abusive measures into ordinary law,” Human Rights Watch said before parliament backed the legislation.
Two UN experts also criticized the bill in October for its “vague wording,” which they said does not define terrorism nor the threats to national security sufficiently well. They also worried that Muslims may face “discriminatory repercussions.”
According to a poll by Le Figaro newspaper, 57 percent of the French public back the measures, although 62 percent agreed that it was a restriction of basic freedoms.
Hungary’s parliament has passed a new set of coronavirus measures that includes jail terms for spreading misinformation and gives no clear time limit to a state of emergency that allows the nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, to rule by decree.
Parliament voted by 137 to 53 to pass the measures on Monday afternoon, with the two-thirds majority enjoyed by Orbán’s Fidesz party enough to push them through in spite of opposition from other parties, which had demanded a time limit or sunset clause on the legislation.
The bill introduces jail terms of up to five years for intentionally spreading misinformation that hinders the government response to the pandemic, leading to fears that it could be used to censor or self-censor criticism of the government response.
As of Monday morning, Hungary had 447 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 15 deaths, although the real figures are likely to be higher. The country is under a partial lockdown, with people discouraged from going outside except for essential activities, and schools, restaurants and many shops closed.
Rights groups and government critics say that while it is clear coronavirus brings extraordinary challenges, checks and balances should be placed on the government response, especially given Orbán’s erosion of democratic norms during his 10 years in power.
“This bill would create an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency and give Viktor Orbán and his government carte blanche to restrict human rights,” said Dávid Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary director. “This is not the way to address the very real crisis that has been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Hungary’s liberal opposition had said that although it had concerns over a number of elements of the law, it was willing to overlook them in the spirit of compromise as long as a sunset clause was introduced.
Of course we support the emergency situation. We agree with the government that there’s an emergency and that they have to do everything to combat it. We offered almost everything, but we asked for the time limit,” said Ágnes Vadai, an MP with the opposition Democratic Coalition party.
However, the ruling party had made it clear that it was not willing to back down over the sunset clause, she claimed. “I think from the very beginning, they didn’t want an agreement, because they have used the whole thing for political communication,” said Vadai.
Immediately after the vote, the senior Fidesz minister Katalin Novák wrote on Twitter: “The parliament authorized the government to continue fighting effectively against #Covid_19 … Regrettably, the opposition parties do not support this fight.”