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France’s top court approves controversial ‘anti-separatism’ law

27th Aug 2021
France’s top court approves controversial ‘anti-separatism’ law

The anti-separatism bill was introduced by hardline French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin
(Credit: Pierrot75005/Wikimedia Commons)

Elham Asaad Buaras

France’s highest court has, on August 13, approved a controversial “anti-separatism” law that has been strongly condemned for targeting Muslims.

The court rejected two articles of the law, Article 16, on suspending the activities of associations, as it would violate freedom of association and Article 26 on granting or withdrawing residence permits to foreigners, as it was contrary to the principles of the Republic.

Three weeks earlier, on July 22, the law was passed as a Bill titled ‘Respect for the principles of the Republic’ by the National Assembly or the lower house of Parliament, by 49 votes in favour, 19 against and five abstentions.

The Bill was brought to the Constitutional Council on May 20 by 60 deputies ( our of 577) and 60 senators (of 348).

The adoption of the Bill in the National Assembly was preceded by a motion of far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who attempted to reject it, branding it “anti-Republican” and “anti-Muslim.” However, his proposal was rejected with 55 against and only 12 in favour.

The Government argued the legislation was needed to bolster the country’s secular system, however, critics argue it breaches religious freedom and especially that of Muslims.

Introduced by hardline French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, the Bill contains measures on the neutrality of the civil service, the fight against online hatred, and the protection of civil servants such as teachers.

But critics say the measures are President Emmanuel Macron’s tack to the right ahead of his 2022 presidential re-election battle against the far-right Marine Le Pen.

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community was shaken by the succession of killings committed by militants from January 2015 that left hundreds dead.

But critics say that the legislation works against the liberal values of the Republic that it seeks to protect. The law bans private Muslim schools and homeschooling for Muslim children.

“Schools must first and foremost instil the values of the Republic and not those of a religion,” Macron stated. Muslim parents must now send their children to public schools where the headscarf is forbidden.

Any religious group will also have to declare donations over €10,000 made from abroad. Marlene Schiappa,

Secretary of State for Gender and Equality, said that this measure ensures that “not one euro of public money is given to the enemies of the Republic.”

The Bill can also impact private companies from acting on religious grounds. This could mean public swimming pools may not have separate swimming times for men and women. Violations of this can be punishable with five years in jail and a €75,000 fine. The US Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, last year criticised the Bill as “heavy-handed.”

The Bill also triggered unusually critical coverage in English-language media, even prompting Macron to write to the Financial Times to defend it, stating that “France is against ‘Islamist separatism’ — never Islam.”
Advocacy group CAGE said the Bill built on the lesser-known Systematic Obstruction policy, which has seen thousands of Muslim establishments placed on blacklists and mosques and businesses shut down.

This is in addition to the tens of millions of Euros seized from Muslims. CAGE Managing Director, Muhammad Rabbani, said, “The French state leads what can only be described as an Islamophobic persecution of its Muslim citizens.

The passing of the Islamophobic Anti-Separatism Bill will strengthen and entrench the pre-existing systematic obstruction policy against Muslims in France.” The Coordination Contre la Loi Séparatisme, which opposes the law, said: “This is indeed a dangerous step towards bringing Muslims in line with their religious, social, cultural and political expressions while reducing their access to a number of rights.

“It thus strengthens the authoritarianism of the state, which can legally use all of its administrative, police and judicial resources against any form of organisation of worship and association of Muslims. And it creates de facto a group subject to a genuine regime of exception based on suspicion, control, intimidation and repression.”

French Muslim activist Marwan Muhammad added: “The Government has now a whole range of instruments to dissolve associations, dictate how Muslims should organise and who they should pray behind, so much for “laïcité (secularism).”

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