French Parliament on Wednesday adopted a controversial counterterror bill that grants permanent new powers to the authorities to conduct house searches, shut down places of worship and restrict freedom of movement. The new law, which will replace the state of emergency imposed after the 2015 Paris attacks, was approved by the Senate on its second reading despite warnings from campaigners that the move is a threat to civil liberties. The lower house of the National Assembly overwhelmingly approved the legislation last week.
Having sparked intense debate in parliament in recent weeks, the bill gives permanence to several emergency laws implemented after the Paris attacks which left 130 people dead.
In a major speech on security, President Emmanuel Macron said the compromise text reached by lawmakers would allow the authorities to combat terrorism "without abandoning our values and principles."
Addressing an audience of security force members, he urged them to "fully utilize" the powers granted to them under the new law, which allows the authorities to heavily curtail the movements of suspected militant sympathizers, shut down religious sites that promote radical ideology, and set up security perimeters around any event deemed vulnerable to terror attacks. Macron said that 13 terror plots had been foiled since the start of 2017.
The new law will also enable the authorities to carry out more on-the-spot identity checks in border areas as well as around train stations, ports and airports. Human rights' groups have voiced fears that such checks will be used by the police to target migrants and minorities, particularly Muslims.
Since 2012, France has progressively tightened its legal arsenal to tackle terror threats, passing around 10 different laws. Analysts from the U.N. High Commissioner warned last month that France's Muslim population could face discrimination and be disproportionally targeted under the new measures, with U.N. experts saying the proposed security measures would "incorporate into ordinary law several restrictions on civil liberties currently in place under France's state of emergency."
The state of emergency expires on Nov. 1 and has already been extended six times.
The Oct. 1 stabbing death of two women in the southern port of Marseille brought the total number of people killed in attacks claimed by or attributed to militants since January 2015 to 241. In a separate development, French police this week arrested several people over a suspected right-wing extremist plot targeting mosques and politicians, including a government spokesman.
Under a terror threat since the 2015 attacks, France declared a state of emergency that was first announced in November 2015 in the wake of the Paris attacks that left 130 people dead. After the deadly attack in the French Riviera city of Nice in July 2016, France plunged into a new period of grief and fear, and the state of emergency was extended for six months until the end of January 2017 due to security concerns across the country. Two Daesh militants cut the throat of an elderly priest and a Tunisian drove his truck into Bastille Day revelers in Nice, killing 84 people.