Using emergency powers, France puts climate activists under house arrest

French authorities place 24 climate activists under house arrest for the duration of the Paris climate summit under precautionary pretenses, but some are calling the government's detention of potential protesters a violation of free speech.

Christophe Ena/AP
Activists form a human chain during a protest ahead of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, in Paris, on Sunday.

Citing emergency laws enacted after the mass shootings carried out by ISIS in Paris earlier this month, France has placed 24 environmental activists under house arrest before the COP 21 World Climate Summit beginning Monday.

France declared a state of emergency after the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people, giving broader protection powers to security forces and police. President François Hollande extended the “etat d’urgence” until February 2016, allowing authorities to set curfews, forbid mass gatherings, conduct house searches at any time without judicial approval, and enforce house arrests.

“These 24 people have been placed under house arrest because they have been violent during demonstrations in the past and because they have said they would not respect the state of emergency,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a speech in Strasbourg on Saturday. “These people have no connection at all with the terrorist movement, but our forces need to be totally focused on the protection of the French people.”

French authorities have also “issued a blanket ban on demonstrations,” including rallies of peaceful protestors. The 24 activists under house arrest are set to be freed after Dec. 12, the last day of the summit. One detainee, who identified herself as Amélie to France 24 News, said she is unable to leave her town of Rennes, she must register at the local police station three times a day, and she is prohibited from leaving her home between the hours of 8pm and 6am.

Fellow climate activists have voiced their disapproval, arguing the government’s sanction is an abuse of power that restricts the free speech of its citizens.

“Climate summits are not photo opportunities to boost the popularity of politicians,” Naomi Klein, an author and environmental advocate told The Guardian. “Given the stakes of the climate crisis, they are by their nature highly contested. That is democracy, messy as it may be. The French government, under cover of anti-terrorism laws, seems to be trying to avoid this, shamefully banning peaceful demonstrations and using emergency powers to pre-emptively detain key activists.”

“We have the feeling that [the government] wants to stifle criticism from the militants, but they are going about it in the worst possible way, this is repression,” Greenpeace France director Jean-Francois Julliard said on BFM television.

Amélie's lawyer, Marie Dose, told France 24 that the state of emergency is being used inappropriately. “If we start placing people under house arrest for ideas that have nothing to do with terrorism […], this constitutes an infringment on freedom of speech and assembly.” Amélie also says she never had any plans to travel to Paris for the climate summit, and her house arrest is based on mere supposition that she might attend.

And while Interior Minister Cazeneuve assures activists they are not being compared with terrorists, he says any climate protest or rally will distract French police forces from anti-terrorism efforts.

Clashes between French authorities and climate protestors has already begun Sunday, despite the 24 climate activist leaders house arrests.

About 200 protestors gathered at the Place de la République in central Paris, a square that has since become a gathering place for Parisiens after the attacks, carrying banners that advocate for climate action and democracy. French riot police fired tear gas at the climate change protestors, Reuters reports. 

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