French MPs have voted to extend the national state of emergency for three months as François Hollande prepares a major tightening of security laws in the wake of the Paris terror attacks that killed 129 people.
The lower house of parliament voted overwhelmingly to extend the measures until the end of February and to increase certain powers including immediately placing people under house arrest if they are considered a risk.
This is the first step in a security crackdown promised by Hollande after the attacks last Friday. The senate will vote on the measures this Friday. The government then intends to hold a special vote of congress within three months to strengthen emergency powers in the constitution. Hollande also wants to introduce measures including stripping French dual nationals convicted of terrorism of citizenship and creating specialist “de-radicalisation centres” for youths.
The current state of emergency gives more powers to the security services and police to act without judicial oversight. The new beefed-up emergency measures include:
Expanded powers to immediately place under house-arrest any person if there are “serious reasons to think their behaviour is a threat to security or public order”.
More scope to dissolve groups or associations that participate in, facilitate or incite acts that are a threat to public order. Members of these groups can be placed under house arrest.
Extended ability to carry out searches without warrants and to copy data from any system found. MPs, lawyers, magistrates and journalists will be exempt.
The interior ministry said the state of emergency measures already in place had led to 63 arrests, 413 searches, the seizure of 72 weapons and 118 people placed under house arrest since Friday.
MPs voted by 551 votes to six to boost and extend the emergency powers. Three Socialists and three Green MPs abstained. Addressing parliament before the vote, the prime minister, Manuel Valls, said the increased security measures were the sign of France’s strength. “It’s the efficient response of a democracy, a free country,” he said adding that other liberties could be temporarily limited. He continued: “We’re at war.”
The Socialist Bruno Le Roux told parliament: “I think French people are ready for a certain, totally relative restriction of liberties, that is controlled and limited to a specific timeframe.”
The Green MP Noël Mamère, who voted against, denounced an excess of security measures which he said threatened to turn exceptional emergency powers into an everyday fact. He said the emergency measures “prevented any real control and meant that judicial oversight, the protector of fundamental liberties, was pushed into the background”.
The magistrates union this week issued a statement voicing concern that the state of emergency dangerously modifies the nature and extent of police and administrative powers. It said the emergency measures allowed searches and house arrests without establishing a link with a criminal offence and without the control of judicial authorities.
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An Ifop poll published by Le Figaro and RTL radio this week found 84% of French people were prepared to accept more controls and a certain limitation of their liberties to guarantee their security.
Valls had told parliament the emergency measures were needed because the risk was so great that nothing could be ruled out, including an attack with chemical or biological weapons.
He said the government was preparing to create specialist “de-radicalisation centres” where young people could follow an individual programme. He said people would only be sent there after a decision by the courts and the centres would initially be reserved for “repentant” radicalised youths, not those returning from Iraq or Syria, who Valls said must go to prison.
The government is also seeking more powers to deal with returning jihadis, and increased passenger controls for air travel.
French police could also be allowed to carry their weapons permanently, even when they are off duty, according to plans being drawn up by police chiefs. This would be on a voluntary basis, subject to specialist training, and they would have to wear a police armband when carrying a gun.
The state of emergency – declared after the series of suicide bombs and gun attacks that struck Paris on Friday night – dates back to legislation put in place in 1955. The last time the state of emergency had been enforced nationwide was 1961 when army generals attempted a coup d’état during the Algerian war.