[JURIST] Strict French anti-terrorism laws violate European and international human rights standards, according to a report [PDF text; HRW press release] released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] Wednesday. In particular, the report criticized a French law [text, in French] criminalizing "association in relation to a terrorist undertaking," which HRW says allows prosecutors and law enforcement officials to detain terrorism suspects without cause and undermine suspects' right to a fair trial:
Central to this preemptive approach is the broadly defined offense of "criminal association in relation to a terrorist undertaking" (association de malfaiteurs en relation avec une entreprise terroriste, hereafter "association de malfaiteurs"). Established as a separate offense in 1996, it allows the authorities to intervene with the aim of preventing terrorism well before the commission of a crime. No specific terrorist act need be planned, much less executed, to give rise to the offense. Intended to criminalize all preparatory acts short of direct complicity in a terrorist plot, an association de malfaiteurs charge may be leveled for providing any kind of logistical or financial support to, or associating in a sustained fashion with, groups allegedly formed with the ultimate goal of engaging in terrorist activity....The report also faulted France for seeking to allow evidence obtained through torture [JURIST news archive] in foreign countries, and for limiting terrorism suspects' access to legal representation. HRW recommended several reforms, including redefining criminal association to terrorist activity, improving safeguards for suspects in police custody, and requiring investigating judges to order official inquiries into any allegation of police mistreatment. The New York Times has more. Voice of America has additional coverage.
In practice, French counterterrorism laws and procedures undermine the right of those facing charges of terrorism to a fair trial. The broad definition and expansive interpretation of association de malfaiteurs translate into a low standard of proof for decisions to arrest suspects or to place them under investigation by a judge. Indeed, casting a wide net to ensnare large numbers of people who might have some connection with an alleged terrorist network has been one of the characteristics of investigations into association de malfaiteurs.
In June 2007, HRW criticized France [JURIST report] for expelling non-citizens accused of links to violent extremism, a practice it said undermined human rights. The report found the French procedure to be a way of expelling individuals through administrative action, bypassing the "more stringent and procedural guarantees in the criminal justice system."