France approves separatism law to tackle extremism

Bill divides French legislature, but government argues it is required to combat terrorist threat

Teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in Paris last year by an extremist. Reuters
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The French National Assembly on Friday passed an "anti-separatism" bill designed to combat the threat posed by extremists.

The bill has split opinion in France's legislature but was approved by the comfortable margin of 49 votes to 19, with five abstentions.

It contains a series of measures to tackle extremism but has been criticised as anti-Muslim, a charge Prime Minister Jean Castex staunchly denied back in December last year.

"This legislation is not legislation against religions, nor against the Muslim religion in particular. It is a law of emancipation in the face of religious fanaticism," Mr Castex told ministers at the time.

What's in the separatism bill?

Following the murder of teacher Samuel Paty by an extremist in Paris last year, anyone found guilty of endangering civil servants by spreading information which could identify them faces fines of up to €45,000 ($53,000) and three years in jail.

Religious groups will have to declare donations from abroad of over €10,000 and local authorities have been given the power to shut down places of worship that proselytise anything deemed hateful or discriminatory. Online hate speech has also been criminalised.

People representing the French state, in either the public or private sector, will have to plight their troth to the principles of secularism and neutrality in public service. One consequence is the end of public swimming pools with male and female-only lanes for religious reasons.

The state has also given itself more power to intervene in cases where it feels female dignity has been compromised and to annul the contracts of companies granted state subsidies should they not adhere to the country's values.

Separatism bill unites left and right in opposition

Both the Socialists and the centre-right Les Republicains voted down the bill. At the extremities of the continuum, so did the French Communist Party, while Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally abstained.

The parties who voted for the bill were President Emmanuel Macron's ruling La Republique En Marche party and its two allies.

Mr Macron, currently in Japan for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, has been accused of pandering to the right in recent months in an attempt to ward off the threat posed by the French nationalist Ms Le Pen, whose star has risen again following a series of terrorist attacks in France last year.

Updated: July 24, 2021, 10:33 AM

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