France calls fake news after 'Muslim IDs for children' plan spreads online

Pakistan minister and US editor withdraw anti-Macron statements

epa08830744 French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin (C) attends a session at the National Assembly during a debate on the bill 'Loi de Securite Globale' (Global Security Law)  in Paris, France, 20 November 2020. A draft global security legislation presented to the French Parliament creates controversy. Critics have warned that the proposed bill would be a danger to press freedom, including the requirement to blur the faces of police officers on duty.  EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON
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Controversy has erupted after unfounded claims against France that it would use a new law to register the identities of Muslim children.

Emmanuel Macron's government is testing a new bill to regulate the relationship between religion and the state, which seeks to ensure that extremists do not infiltrate public institutions.

One aspect of the legislation is a provision to severely restrict home schooling to only those who have medical needs, despite the pandemic having led to a surge in home education around the world.

The bill, drafted by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, states that each child will 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," Mr Darmanin said last week.

But in a now-deleted tweet, Pakistan's Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, said: “Macron is doing to Muslims what the Nazis did to the Jews – Muslim children will get ID numbers just as Jews were forced to wear the yellow star on their clothing for identification.”

Ms Mazari then tweeted that she had taken the advice of Marc Barety, the French ambassador to Islamabad.

"The French envoy to Pakistan sent me the following message and as the article I had cited has been corrected by the relevant publication, I have also deleted my tweet on the same," she wrote.

The draft law also cracks down on online hate speech by allowing suspects to be summarily tried.

A separate controversy broker out as the opinion editor of The Washington Post, Karen Attiah, was forced to issue a retraction of her own.

"I do unequivocally apologise for the error I made in saying that Macron's bill targets Muslim children. I do have a responsibility to facts," Attiah wrote.

"And I do not want to make anything harder for my colleagues who are doing an amazing job with a difficult story."

She said she wanted to echo the criticism of "non-white" French commenters who had wanted to raise the alarm on Mr Macron for years.

Mr Macron has had a series of disputes with leading international news organisations in recent days.

Ben Smith of The New York Times said he had received a phone call from Mr Macron criticising the newspaper's reporting of recent developments in France.

“So when I see, in that context, several newspapers which I believe are from countries that share our values – journalists who write in a country that is the heir to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution – when I see them legitimising this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost,” Mr Macron said.

In a letter to the Financial Times, he called as a reader for the removal of an article based on his reforms.

"The piece misquoted me, substituting 'Islamic separatism' – a term that I have never used – for 'Islamist separatism', which is a reality in my country," he wrote.

"It accused me of stigmatising French Muslims for electoral purposes and of fostering a climate of fear and suspicion towards them."