Paris Protesters Meet France’s Anti-Terrorism Laws

French authorities used emergency powers to arrest more than 200 demonstrators ahead of Monday’s global climate conference.

Eric Gaillard / Reuters

In the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris earlier this month, France declared a state of emergency and implemented sweeping anti-terrorism measures.

When lawmakers extended that state of emergency (and its security provisions) for three months, some eyebrows arched over the potential cost to French civil liberties. In an interview with NPR, Jean-Pierre Dubois, the president of France’s Human Rights League, raised the issue of how French authorities could overreach into matters beyond terrorism.

But when you come to the articles of the bill, it’s not at all terrorism. It’s everything about security and public order. That means the exceptional extension of the police powers and the exceptional restraints of civil liberties is not at all only for the purposes of fighting terrorism but for anything during three months. And we don’t understand that because it’s not really very fair to tell people it’s about terrorism and to extend so much the exceptional law field in a way.

On Sunday, demonstrators gathering in Paris to protest the global climate conference learned firsthand about France’s new security measures when they encountered riot police with pepper spray and stun grenades. According to reports, the vast majority of the roughly 200 people arrested after clashing with security forces were held in detention.

“French President Francois Hollande said the violence was ‘scandalous’ both because the clashes were caused by ‘disruptive elements’ that have nothing to do with environmental defenders and because they occurred at Place de la Republique, which has been a memorial square for the 130 victims of the November 13 Paris attacks,” the AP reported.

The scene in Paris was ugly. According to the Times, some protestors hurled tribute items left at the memorial at police officers while others chanted, “State of emergency, police state. You can’t take away our right to demonstrate!”

Ahead of Sunday’s protests, two dozen activists were preemptively placed under house arrest. (Over at The Intercept, Alleen Brown writes about the plight of one of the 24.) French authorities cited the security situation in banning two planned rallies before and after the climate conference. But some activists bristled at the government’s actions, pointing out that discouraging public gatherings, but allowing sporting events and Christmas markets to continue is hypocritical.

“All this makes us think that the state of emergency is being used as a way to shut us up,” Juliette Rousseau, the leader of a social action and environmental umbrella group, told the Los Angeles Times.