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French MPs back controversial law aimed at cracking down on Islamic radicalism

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A banner reads « All united against political islamophobia » during a gathering in Paris, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021.
A banner reads « All united against political islamophobia » during a gathering in Paris, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Thibault Camus
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French MPs on Tuesday approved a controversial law against separatism, which plans to crack down on online hate speech and foreign funding of religious groups.

It was adopted with 347 votes in favour, 151 votes against and 65 abstentions. The vote came after more than 55 hours of debate over the previous two weeks resulting in the adoption of 144 amendments to the legislation's 70 articles.

Senators are scheduled to examine the legislation, officially named the draft bill "reinforcing republican principles", on March 30.

It plans for homeschooling to be drastically reduced with authorities allowed to refuse parents the right to teach their children at home. Currently, any parents wishing to do so only need to inform the authorities.

The government has argued that homeschooling is being used as a shield by some families who then send their children to underground religious groups.

The legislation will also create a new crime with the act of disseminating information about someone's private, family or professional life that makes them identifiable with the aim of endangering their lives to be punishable by three years in jail and a fine of up to €45,000.

This is meant as a measure to clamp down on online hate speech and comes in response to the beheading in October 2020 of Samuel Patty, a teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a class on freedom of expression.

Oversight of religious groups would also be strengthened by the bill with foreign donations of more than €10,000 banned. Authorities would also be granted the right to shut down any places of worship found to spread ideas or theories that could lead to discrimination against other groups.

Other types of associations which are found to not respect republican values could similarly be shut down.

Anyone who attempts to intimidate a public service representative into granting an exemption or partial exemption of these rules based on religious beliefs is to be punished with five years in jail and a €75,000 fine.

France's cherished principle of laicité would also be protected further with public servants and any entity representing the state obliged to ensure respect for the principles of secularism and neutrality fo the state.

The legislation also bars medical professionals from delivering so-called "virginity certificates" — a pre-requisite often asked of women prior to forced marriage — and strengthens tools and punitive measures against forced marriages and polygamy.

The first outlines of the law were presented by French President Emmanuel Macron in October 2020 during a speech on secularism and Islam in the aftermath of Patty's murder.

Macron's address sparked a boycott of French products in several Muslim countries followed by sometimes-violent protests during which the French flag and pictures of Macron were set on fire.

Protests were also held at home. The most recent one, on Sunday, drew 200 people in Paris who accused the law of "reinforcing discrimination against Muslims".