Sweeping Raids In France Raise Concerns About Civil Liberties : Parallels Emergency powers after last year's terrorist attacks have led to 3,500 house raids and hundreds of house arrests. Police, under pressure to prevent new attacks, risk alienating French Muslims.
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Sweeping Raids In France Raise Concerns About Civil Liberties

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Sweeping Raids In France Raise Concerns About Civil Liberties

Sweeping Raids In France Raise Concerns About Civil Liberties

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So Steve mentioned a man in France says it was the fear of terror that led police to put him in handcuffs. His country is under a state of emergency. That's been the case since last year's terror attacks in Paris. Police in France have broad powers of search and arrest. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley spoke with this Frenchman who learned about those powers firsthand.


MISTAFA FANOUNI: Comment allez vous?

BEARDSLEY: Bien vous.

Forty-five-year-old Mistafa Fanouni (ph) lives with his wife and three daughters in the peaceful community of Champagne-sur-Oise about an hour north of Paris. Amidst the neat houses and manicured lawns, Fanouni has been living a nightmare. It all began last November, two days after coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Fanouni and his family had just returned from lighting candles at a memorial in Paris' Place de la Republique.

FANOUNI: (Through interpreter) At half past midnight, I was in my bedroom watching TV. My daughters were with sleeping upstairs and my wife screamed that somebody was trying to come in by force. I opened the door to police and guns pointing at me. I was handcuffed in my underwear. The police blocked my wife in the kitchen. They went upstairs and began to go through my daughter's room and computers. When I asked why they were doing this, they said you will see later.

BEARDSLEY: Police have carried out more than 3,500 house raids across the country since last November. And hundreds of citizens like Fanouni have been put under house arrest. Fanouni says he still has no idea why.

FANOUNI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: He says authorities accused him of having radical Islamists view, of referring to his own daughters as soldiers. This is all horribly wrong, he says. He was born here of Moroccan parents and feels completely French.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: (Speaking French).

FANOUNI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Fanouni says he has been humiliated in front of his neighbors, and his daughters are traumatized. His 5-year-old lives in fear that he'll be taken away.

(Speaking French).

COLIN LE BONNOIS: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Lawyer Colin Le Bonnois (ph) helped Fanouni bring his case to court. He says Fanouni was targeted based on what's known in intelligence jargon as a white paper, a single sheet containing anonymous, undated accusations. Le Bonnois says in normal times, such accusations would have to be investigated and a house search approved by a judge but not when the country is in a state of emergency.

LE BONNOIS: (Through interpreter) The authorities are so fearful since the attacks that they feel they have to show they're taking action. So they cast a wide net. Persecuting innocents is preferable to the risk of letting someone slide through the cracks.

BEARDSLEY: Le Bonnois explains that a car accident 20 years ago left his client handicapped but with a large settlement. He believes a neighbor, perhaps suspicious of the source of his income, could have reported him to the police - add to that the fact that his client is Muslim and also happens to have a gun permit and belong to a shooting club. But in February, the court ruled in Fanouni's favor and lifted his house arrest.


BEARDSLEY: Last month, a French police officer and his domestic partner, also a police employee, received France's Legion of Honor Medal posthumously. The couple was stalked down and murdered in their home in front of their 3-year-old by an avowed follower of ISIS.



BEARDSLEY: President Francois Hollande said the couple's murder would push France to pursue its fight against terrorism with even greater determination. But human rights groups accuse the French government of using the emergency measures to indiscriminately target Muslims. The Interior Ministry denied requests for an interview. But Jacques Di Bona, the former head of police anti-terrorist operations, did go on the record.

JACQUES BONA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: He says the French public must be ready to sacrifice some liberties when the country is up against such a real and present danger. Nearly 150 people died in last year's attacks. The state of emergency allows police to move quickly, Di Bona says, and this can be important.

BONA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: But the former anti-terrorism chief cautions that it's important to target real suspects and not just try to make quotas. That can be counterproductive. According to a parliamentary report on the state of emergency, 3,500 house raids in the last six months have led to only six actual terrorism cases.


YASSER LOUATI: How you doing? Yasser Louati - nice to meet you.

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley.

LOUATI: Come on in.

BEARDSLEY: I go see Yasser Louati to find out how these house raids are playing out in the Muslim community. He works for the Collective Center Against Islamophobia. He says the few suspects arrested for actual links to last year's terrorist attacks came from inside tips from the Muslim community. He says the community has done a good job of getting control over its mosques, but radicalization is taking place online and in prisons. So it's more important than ever for police to work with French Muslims.

LOUATI: But now people are afraid to work with the police. The government targeted specifically the Muslim population in its homes. Police cannot expect the community to work with it if they are themselves terrorizing the community.

BEARDSLEY: At his home, Mistafa Fanouni says he feels terrorized. He shows me a dozen character references he produced in court, letters from neighbors, a police chief, a mayor. There's even a commendation from former President Jacques Chirac for Fanouni's work running an association that encouraged dialogue between troubled youths and police.

BEARDSLEY: (Speaking French).

He shows me another letter, a rejection he received after applying to work for the French Intelligence Services some 25 years ago. Ironically, he found it after police ransacked his office last November.

FANOUNI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Fanouni says instead of involving French Muslims in the struggle against radicalization, the French government is alienating them. As for his own case, the government appealed the court ruling to release Fanouni and won. Now he's back under house arrest. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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