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Paris COP21: Police Use State of Emergency to Target Activists

  • Climate change is the real emergency, argue environmentalists, who criticize the

    Climate change is the real emergency, argue environmentalists, who criticize the "emergency state" repressing their mobilizations. | Photo: Reuters

Published 30 November 2015

Human rights groups warn that security measures introduced in light of Charlie Hebdo and the recent attacks in Paris are being used to target not only jihadists, but nonviolent activists.

A peaceful protest held in Paris on Sunday, organized to pressure world leaders to reach an agreement on climate change at the COP21 summit ended in almost 200 arrests by the end of the afternoon.

Organizers said that around 10,000 environmentalists gathered on the Place de la Republique around noon, despite authorities imposing a state of emergency following the terror attacks in Paris two weeks ago which effectively prohibits protests surrounding the COP21.

Chanting slogans and branding France a “police state,” a group of masked activists clashed with police at a cordon set up for the occasion, local media reported.

OPINION: After the Paris Massacre: The Evil Axis of US Allies

The violence erupted when the activists threw missiles at the police, who responded by firing tear gas and pepper spray at the activists before charging at the group, according to journalist Sophie Perez who reported from the ground.

The police eventually managed to surround the protesters, kettling them into the square before taking the names of more than 200 people and placing a reported 174 under arrest for defying the protest ban. No injuries were reported.

“Some threw projectiles from the crowd in response to police tear gas.”

“The police launched tear gas very quickly,” said Maud, an activist and eyewitness. “They surrounded people ... and put them into police vans,” she said, adding that two of her friends who formed part of the demonstration were among those arrested. In her opinion, the methods of the police reflected the French state’s “war-like spirit.”

French President Francois Hollande, who was attending an EU summit in Brussels, has condemned the “outrageous” acts of “troublemakers,” saying they have “nothing to do with environmentalists.”

State of Emergency: a convenient measure ahead of the COP21 summit

Ahead of the COP21, environmental and human rights groups have warned against the country’s state of emergency, arguing that the recent Paris terror attacks are being used to repress the actions of environmentalists due to fears that mass mobilizations could disturb the summit.

In many French cities, local authorities have formally prohibited demonstrations perceived to be “anti-establishment,” reports Arret sur Images.

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On Saturday, Le Monde reported that at least 24 environmental activists across the country were put under house arrest until Dec. 12—the end of the COP21 summit.

The French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve defended the measures on Saturday, saying the activists had a record of violence in previous demonstrations and had “expressed the wish to not respect the principles of the state of emergency.”

French state targeting all types of activists

An estimated 1,600 raids conducted by French security forces outside of any judicial control have been reported across France since the beginning of the nationwide state of emergency, many of which are believed to have targeted people without any links to potential terrorist groups.

In Paris, approximately 60 people suspected of having demonstrated in support of refugees on Sunday were summoned to a local police station, including two activists from the association Droit au Logement (Right for Housing).

According to the association, activists who did not even participate in the march were targeted. They now face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to US$7,500.

In the department of Eure et Loire, local authorities have prohibited a group of about 200 activists who were planning on traveling to Paris via bicycles and tractors. The group, considered “radical and violent” by authorities, are known for their previous opposition to the airport project in Notre-Dame-Des-Landes which has been put on hold for the past two years.

“The Internal Affairs Ministry is losing its nerves,” denounced the League of Human Rights (LDH) in a communique issued on Thursday.

French government informs the EU it will violate human rights

Last Tuesday, the French government wrote to the EU Human Rights Council that it expects to violate various human rights guaranteed by the EU convention.

“French authorities informed the General-Secretary of the EU Council of various measures implemented in the context of the emergency state ... measures that may require a derogation to various rights guaranteed by the EU Human Rights Convention,” an official statement released by the EU human rights body stated.

The 15th article of the European Convention on Human Rights gives member states the possibility of derogating some of the convention's rights in the “case of war or other public dangers threatening the nation's life.”

France’s state of emergency includes the possibility of 24-hour police raids conducted without a warrant or any other kind of judicial control. Police have also been granted the ability to seize digital equipment suspected of containing digital information relevant to national security.

In addition, any person whose “behavior can seriously be considered a threat to security and public order” can be detained or placed under house arrest.

“Do you support a limitation of freedom of expression during the emergency state? Yes – 10 percent; No – Censored”

On November 20, French authorities voted to extend the nation’s state of emergency by three months.

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