By Eda Seyhan
By bypassing the courts, administrative [anti-terrorist] measures [in France] deny people the chance to prove their innocence and permit the government to penalise individuals without having to prove their guilt.Counter-terrorism campaigner in Europe for Amnesty International
“We are only an hour from the sea, but I can’t take my children to the beach,” Kamel Daoudi tells me. It is the school holidays and Kamel’s wife and three young children have made the long journey across the country to visit him in an isolated town in western France, a town he cannot leave without facing arrest.
A decade ago, Kamel – a 44-year-old man originally from Algeria - was subjected to an assigned residence order, which effectively put him under indefinite house arrest. Under the measure, he is confined to a town chosen for him by the government. After being moved six times, he is now in Saint-Jean-d'Angély, separated from his family by more than 400km. He lives in a non-descript highway motel approved by the local authority, and must report to the local police station three times a day. At night, he is not allowed to leave his motel due to a curfew.
Kamel’s days are rigidly organised around his journeys to the police station and his curfew – he risks prison if he slips up. “I feel like the main character in the film Groundhog Day, reliving the same day over and over again,” he tells me. “Even prison is less severe than this.” And he should know.
In 2005, Kamel was convicted for a terrorism offence and sentenced to imprisonment. During his prosecution, he was stripped of his French nationality. He spent six years in prison but, despite having served his sentence, he was not allowed to walk free upon release. Instead, the French authorities ordered him to leave the country. However, due to the fact that he would face torture and ill-treatment in Algeria, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that France could not send him there.
French law allows the government to impose assigned residence orders on foreign nationals who, like Kamel, cannot return to their country of nationality. And so began an ordeal that has left him languishing in a legal limbo that has rendered a normal life impossible.
Kamel is not alone in this injustice. While administrative control measures have long been used in cases of foreign nationals like Kamel, such measures have only recently become a key tool in France’s counter-terrorism arsenal. At first only available as an exceptional measure under the state of emergency, counter-terrorism control orders were brought into the ordinary legal system in October 2017.
The Minister of Interior may impose such orders: “for the sole purpose of preventing the commission of terrorist acts.” Individuals are targeted on the basis of broad and vague criteria. The person subject to the order typically does not know the evidence against them unless they appeal the order. Even if they do appeal, they do not get access to the full case against them and face further obstacles to justice.
The measures themselves confine a person to a specific town, require them to report daily to the police and, in some cases, prevent them from contacting certain individuals or visiting certain locations. Should they violate any of these conditions, they risk prison.
These measures are inherently unjust. Pre-emptive justice – penalising someone for what they might do, and not what they have done – is not justice at all.
If the authorities suspect someone of wrongdoing, they should investigate and, if there is enough evidence, prosecute them.
By concentrating power in the hands of the government - completely outside of the normal criminal justice system - administrative control measures are open to abuse and discriminatory application, including toward Muslims. By bypassing the courts, administrative measures deny people the chance to prove their innocence and permit the government to penalise individuals without having to prove their guilt.
The increased use of administrative measures in the counter-terrorism context goes beyond France and has seen an alarming increase in recent years.
Last year, the Dutch parliament passed a law allowing the government to impose control orders for national security reasons on any person they claim “can be associated with terrorist activities” or the support thereof. A bill currently going through the Swiss parliament empowers police to impose restrictions, like bans on contact with certain individuals, on “potentially dangerous persons” without having to charge them with any crime.
This law mirrors a similar expansion of powers of the German federal criminal police in May 2017. The vague nature of these preventative measures, which rely on presumptions of “dangerousness” and potential threats rather than hard evidence, coupled with persistent stereotyping of Muslims across Europe, opens the door to discrimination and abuse.
Disturbingly, these administrative orders are just part of a wider raft of anti-terror laws introduced across Europe in recent years that have had a corrosive effect on the rule of law and have undermined freedoms that we have long taken for granted.
Back in Saint-Jean-d'Angély, crammed into his motel room with his wife and children, I ask Kamel what he would do if the administrative order on him was lifted. “I’d live a normal life,” he tells me. “We made a promise with my wife that we’d go travelling, as a family. I’d arrange my days around the desires and education of my children. I’d try and make up for all the years that I’ve lost.”
Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the authors.