News ID: 206276
Published: 1057 GMT December 16, 2017

Constitutional body in France rejects bill against surfing ‘terror’ websites

Constitutional body in France rejects bill against surfing ‘terror’ websites
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) delivers a speech to the Constitutional Council members during an oath-taking ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris on November 6, 2017. (AFP)

Amid growing concerns in France over terror threats, the supreme constitutional authority in the country has struck down a legislative motion to criminalize the surfing of ‘terrorist’ websites for the second time this year, saying such a measure is against civil liberties.

The French Constitutional Council rejected on Friday the proposed bill passed by the country’s lawmakers as ‘neither adequate, nor proportional,’ saying that the legislation violates freedom of expression and communication, reported.

The bill calls for punishment of anyone visiting ‘terrorist’ websites “without any legitimate reason” to “two years of imprisonment and a €30,000 ($35,250) fine.”

It refers to the websites which are usually affiliated to Takfiri terror groups such as Daesh and seek to radicalize people.

The advocates of the legislation argue that the looming threat of terrorist attacks make it worth sacrificing certain liberties for the sake of safety.

The bill was previously rejected by the Constitutional Council back in February, prompting French lawmakers to introduce changes that supposedly clarified surfing restrictions.

The latest version of the legislation authorizes individuals to visit a ‘terrorist’ website if the visitor is able to ‘prove’ it is for ‘public information or scientific research.’ However, the bill was again rejected by the Council.

The development came after the French parliament approved in October a new controversial anti-terrorism law that made permanent parts of the two-year state of emergency, enacted following the 2015 attacks.

That legislation led to a severe backlash over its potential to limit civil liberties.

However, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb justified it by cautioning that ‘nobody is safe’ and France ‘is still in a state of war.’

Human Rights Watch, which has been vocally opposing the legislation since it was first introduced, hailed the ruling by the Constitutional Council as a “welcome respite from France’s rush to adopt restrictive counterterrorism measures at the cost of rights and freedoms,” further insisting that the amendments introduced to the bill were purely cosmetic and did not change its nature. 

Observers also say the approval of the measure could play into the hands of politicians and set the stage for criminalizing any website deemed as ‘terrorist.’

Prior to the original bill’s defeat in December 2016, a 32-year-old Frenchman was sentenced to two years in jail and a fine after police discovered during a raid that he was regularly browsing websites affiliated with the Daesh terrorist group.

The probe further found that the suspect was using a Daesh flag as a cover photo on his PC and downloaded the terror group’s propaganda images, including execution videos, on his phone.

France has been the victim of the deadliest Daesh-inspired terror attacks in Europe. More than 200 people have been killed since early 2015 by terrorists who have vowed allegiance to, or been inspired by Daesh.

In a series of coordinated attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015 alone, 130 people were killed by Daesh-linked terrorists. On Bastille Day in July 2016, a truck was driven into crowds of people celebrating in Nice, killing 86 and injuring over 450.

According to French intelligence services, nearly 700 French nationals are currently fighting alongside Takfiri terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

Reports also said earlier this week that nationals of France were among the foreign militants joining Daesh ranks in northern Afghanistan, where the notorious terror group has established a foothold after losing its territorial rule in Syria and Iraq.

Concerns are mounting in the European country over the security threats which could be posed by its nationals upon returning home from conflict zones.

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