The French parliament enacted new laws on Tuesday that will enforce a travel ban on individuals suspected of planning acts of terrorism, enable authorities to block websites that glorify or instruct such acts, and prescribe punishment for individuals on the basis of assumed terrorism.
According to AFP, the law attracted broad support from all political denominations in the parliament's lower house, the National Assembly, except the Green Party, which saw the bill as too vague in respect to governmental powers. This bill represents the 14th such law enacted in France since a wave of terrorist attacks in 1986.
During a speech to the National Assembly on October 29, lawmaker Sébastien Pietrasanta presented hard data on the numbers of French residents who have fled to Syria and Iraq to wage jihad.
According to Le Figaro, France is the largest source of western jihadists. In his address, Pietrasanta broke down the numbers: "Today, 1,089 French or foreign nationals living on our country are involved with jihadist networks in Syria or in Iraq. 368 are currently waging war in Syria; 212 have returned; 256 are actively planning to leave; 205 are in transit and 46 have died in Syria and in Iraq."
Sébastien Pietrasanta's address to French parliament
While a majority of lawmakers in the Senate approved the bill on November 4, senators from the Green Party and the National Front — France's far-right nationalist party — abstained. The French Communist Party voted against the bill.
The new anti-terrorism law, dubbed the "French Patriot Act" by a leader of the Communist Party, operates on three levels.
Firstly, it targets "lone wolves" — or individuals planning "individual terrorist undertakings" — imposing a 10-year sentence and a 150,000 euro ($186,000) fine on anyone found to be simultaneously in possession of dangerous objects or substances (such as explosives and weapons), and consulting terrorist websites or receiving weapons training.
Speaking to the Senate on October 15, French Green Party senator Esther Benbasse warned that this "could amount to penalizing intention."
Secondly, the bill grants authorities the ability to block websites that "glorify terrorism" without the intervention of a judge, referring them instead to the French Data Protection Authority.
Thirdly, the legislation imposes a ban on individuals entering or leaving the country, "whenever there are serious reasons to believe that someone is planning to travel abroad… to take part in terrorist activities, war crimes or crimes against humanity."
The bill was widely criticized in its draft stage, by both politicians and NGOs such as Reporters Without Borders. Julien Bayou of the Green Party and Thomas Watanabe-Vermorel, of the Pirate Party, penned a joint open letter to French Minister of Interior Bernard Cazeneuve, entitled "Mr. Cazeneuve, your anti-terrorist law is anti-democratic." They denounced the bill as "a clear step backwards for democracy and its values" in the face of terrorism.
Bayou and Watanabe-Vermorel concluded their piece with a quote by Benjamin Franklin: "People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both."
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