French bill targets online incitement, Islamist groups

The bill stipulates that any association that seeks public funding must agree to “respect the principles and values of the republic”.
Thursday 19/11/2020
French soldier guards a school in Marseille, southern France. (AFP)
French soldier guards a school in Marseille, southern France. (AFP)

PARIS

A French bill on preventing radicalisation, completed after the terrorist beheading of teacher Samuel Paty and the extremist attack in Nice, targets Islamist organisations and makes online incitement against civil servants a crime, according to the text unveiled Wednesday.

The bill also makes it an offence to share the personal information of a person in a way that allows them to be identified or located by people who want to harm them.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has clamped down on radical Islam following the gruesome murder of Paty, who was the target of a vicious online incitement campaign for showing his students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a class on free speech.

His murder and that of three other people during a subsequent terror attack against a church in Nice sent shock waves through France, which has been repeatedly targeted by Islamist extremists since 2015, most of them French citizens.

Paty’s name was shared online by the father of one of his students, who labelled the teacher a “thug” in a video calling for his dismissal over the cartoons.

The father also exchanged messages with Paty’s killer, an 18-year-old Chechen refugee who travelled over 80 kilometres from his home in Normandy to attack the teacher in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, where he paid some students to point him out.

A few weeks before Paty’s death, Macron had already set out plans to tackle what he called the “Islamist separatism” in poor French neighbourhoods that aimed to create a “counter-society” where Islamic law was the rule.

As examples of the growing sectarianism, he cited children from ultraconservative Muslim families being taken out of school, and sporting and cultural associations being used to indoctrinate youth.

 ‘Saving children’ 

The bill drafted by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti provides for each child to be given an ID number that would be used to ensure they are attending school.

“We must save our children from the clutches of the Islamists,” Darmanin told Le Figaro newspaper on Wednesday.

The draft law also cracks down on online hate speech of the kind suffered by Paty by allowing for suspects to be summarily tried.

“This law is, ‘hands off my teacher, hands off the values of the republic’,” Dupond-Moretti told RTL radio.

NGOs and charities suspected of being infiltrated by radical Islamists are also in the government’s sights.

The bill, which will be presented in cabinet on December 9, stipulates that any association that seeks public funding must agree to “respect the principles and values of the republic” and return the money if found to have flouted the rules.