Human Rights Watch issued a report Thursday saying French Muslims have been unfairly targeted and have suffered abuse in police raids and searches during the state of emergency imposed after the Paris attacks in January. The report comes a day after the French government announced it wants to extend state-of-emergency powers for another three months.
"The terrorist threat is still extremely high" in France and Europe, government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said Wednesday. "The state of emergency is necessary. It has been useful and must continue to be."
Since gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in attacks across Paris on Nov. 13, French police have carried out more than 3,200 raids and arrested between 350 and 400 people, HRW said. But the raids only resulted in the opening of five anti-terror investigations by the Paris prosecutor, the group said.
Many of the people searched by police have reported incidents of abuse during the raids. They say French officials discriminated against them because they were Muslims.
“France has a responsibility to ensure public safety and try to prevent further attacks, but the police have used their new emergency powers in abusive, discriminatory, and unjustified ways,” Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at HRW, said in a news release.
“This abuse has traumatized families and tarnished reputations, leaving targets feeling like second-class citizens,” Leghtas added.
The state of emergency — which allows police to conduct raids and searches without prior judicial approval or warrants — is the longest one imposed in France since World War II. The current state of emergency expires on Feb. 26.
On Saturday, thousands of people protested the government’s plans to renew the state of emergency. Many also oppose a plan by French President Francois Holland to strip dual nationals of their citizenship if they are convicted of terrorism, an initiative that prompted Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to resign two weeks ago. Taubira said she quit over concerns that the proposal would fuel racism against French Muslims, who are more likely than others to hold dual citizenship.
"My France of liberties, where are you?" read one banner at the Saturday protest.
Rights group Amnesty International stressed that "the state of emergency cannot be a permanent solution without undermining fundamental freedoms."
N’Goran Ahoua — who helped start a group to represent residents after police raided their building in the Saint-Denis suburb and killed two suspected attackers hiding there — said he has requested compensation from the government. Residents have been locked out of their homes since the raid, he says.
“We were shaken and shocked by the police action,” said Ahoua, an organizer with the group Association DAL of the Victims of 48 Rue de la Republique.
“We’re waiting to be recognized by the French government as victims,” he said.
His association is demanding an end to the raids and arrests, and asking for more attention to urgent social ills plaguing the residents of the Paris suburb where the residents were wounded and displaced.
“The emergency isn’t military,” he said, “It’s social: the fight against stigmatization of religion, unemployment, and a lack of opportunities for youth.”
With The Associated Press