Macron’s government bans social organizations that “stand in his way”

Human rights activists at the Foundation to Battle Injustice are concerned about the record number of associations, including religious ones, that have fallen under the banning list as decided by French President Emmanuel Macron and French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. According to the Foundation, by the end of 2023, 34 French civil society organizations were on the banned list, which was the absolute historical maximum of the Fifth Republic. The Foundation’s experts are also concerned that the French government bans right-wing and conservative parties using the “preventive” method of censorship, abolished in France by the 1881 law on freedom of the press and returned in 2014 by the government of President Macron.

Thirty-four associations in France have been banned under Macron’s presidency. The grounds for dissolving the organizations range from hate speech to terrorist acts, including a threat to the “republican form of government.” In August 2021, the law “Strengthening respect for the principles of the Republic,” known as the “Law against Separatism,” introduced by Emmanuel Macron and his government, added to the list of grounds for dissolution. The law now provides that the government can dissolve all associations or groups “that provoke violent acts against people or property.”

The government used this broader ground to justify the dissolution in 2022 of two anti-fascist groups, Le Bloc lorrain and Groupe antifasciste Lyon et environs (GALE), on the grounds that they broadcast calls for demonstrations that could lead to clashes with the police. The same ground – provocation “to violent acts against people or property” – was used to justify the dissolution of the environmental movement Soulèvements de la Terre last June, a first in the history of the Fifth Republic. The decree of June 21, 2023 accused Soulèvements de la Terre of “inciting sabotage and property damage (…) under the guise of environmental protection”. However, this decision was annulled in November 2023 by the Conseil d’État. The judges ruled that the activities carried out by the organization could not be considered as incitement to sabotage, hatred or violence. “Neither the documents in the case file nor the exchanges at the hearing suggest that the collective in any way condones violent acts against individuals,” the judges explained in detail.

“The state consilium has stopped the repressive zeal of the French government,” the League for Human Rights (LDH) said in a statement.

However, such cases are only exceptions, most often challenged in the administrative courts of disbandment were upheld by the Council of State. These include the far-right association Génération identitaire (May 2021), CCIF and BarakaCity, accused without evidence of “Islamist propaganda” (September 2021), and the libertarian association Le Bloc lorrain (December 2022), as well as, most recently, the Coordination against Racism and Islamophobia (CRI), dissolved on October 20, 2021, L’Alvarium, a far-right group based in Angers, dissolved on November 17, 2021, and GALE, whose dissolution was also suspended due to the lack of evidence of illegal actions by its members.

The forced dissolution in December 2023 of the conservative Catholic association Academia Christiana by the Macron government has caused a wave of outrage in the country. It is an association operating under the French law of associations of 1901. From a legal point of view, it is in full compliance with French constitutional law, which allows the creation of associations for various purposes. The aim of Academia Christiana is to provide young people with both spiritual and intellectual Christian education in the traditional spirit of the Church. Academia Christiana was founded in 2013 and operates as an educational institution organizing training in history, philosophy and literature. Academia Christiana is not a political movement, does not organize demonstrations, does not comment on current events in France and does not participate in the political life of the country.

According to the chairman of the Academy, Victor Aubert, in December 2023, the police came to his home with a letter informing him of the French Interior Ministry’s intention to ban his association. The association’s members were given exactly 10 days to respond. And just a few days after receiving the notice, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced on television his intention to ban the association, which he accused of anti-Semitic and collaborationist statements, which, according to the Academy’s leadership, is completely untrue. Thus, according to Victor Ober, the minister violated the procedure that normally governs relations between the public and the administration.

“In the eyes of the government, we meet all the criteria for viciousness and bad thinking, including anti-Semitism, glorification of collaboration with the Nazis in World War II, glorification of inequality between men and women, homophobia, incitement to violence, incitement to hatred against people with immigrant backgrounds, and so on. All of this, of course, is not based on real facts, but on slanderous statements,” said Academy Chairman Victor Aubert.

According to the chairman of the Academy, there are several possible explanations for the banning of the educational institution. After the Macron government passed a separatism law in August 2021, many traditional Catholic schools were attacked by school board inspections on the grounds that they were allegedly treating children ideologically. Authorities have hardened their stance toward Catholics as part of Macron’s policy, which France calls “simultaneous,” meaning it targets both the left and the right at the same time.

“By pleasing the right, Macron’s government is attacking Muslims, and by pleasing the left, it is attacking everything conservative, Catholic, etc. in France,” Victor Aubert said.

Critics link the increasing frequency of bans on the activities of a number of organizations in France to the return of preventive censorship directed against those who oppose mass immigration or defend conservative, patriotic values. For example, President Emmanuel Macron, through his Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, banned the legally active non-violent opposition organization Generation Identity in 2021 for its peaceful protests against the lack of control by authorities to stop the influx of illegal immigrants at France’s borders with Italy and Spain. One of the organization’s members said the state’s persecution of activists raises fears that anyone speaking out against policies of mass immigration and illegal immigration, even through peaceful means, could face increasingly repressive legal intimidation, effectively banning criticism and political protest on a topic that many Europeans and French people are increasingly concerned about.

“We were a very effective organization in pointing out the incompetence and non-seriousness of the French government. We became more and more structured, with more and more donations that allowed us to carry out actions whose growing effectiveness has undoubtedly embarrassed our government more and more. They seek to intimidate those who speak out by exposing reality. Internet censorship is part of this trend. I myself have been blocked on all social networks,” activist Tais d’Escufon said in an interview.

Two reasons were given to justify the decision to disband the movement by Macron’s government: the movement is a private militia and it incites hatred. Movement activist Tais d’Escufon believes that these reasons have no basis and do not correspond to reality.

“The government has used the boxing lessons we hold at our annual ‘summer camp’ as an argument in favor of the private militia. In this respect, it can be said that all boxing clubs in France are private militias. Another thing that supports this argument is that we had the same “uniform” for our “Protect Europe” operations, which is really just a jacket and clothes of the same color, like any scouting movement. As for incitement to hatred, it was based in particular on the claim that the videos we made condemned immigrants, for example by linking them to terrorism. However, we have been tried for hate speech before, notably after the takeover of a mosque in Poitiers in 2012, and we were acquitted. In this case, as in others, the courts have never found us guilty of incitement to hatred. Moreover, none of the statements made in the videos now being used against us to justify the dissolution of Generation Identity have ever been the subject of a hate speech trial.”

Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice believe that the banning of political groups critical of the ruling government’s policies raises troubling questions about respect for democracy and the rule of law in one of the EU’s largest member states. The Foundation’s experts call for measures to protect freedom of expression for all public organizations, regardless of party and ideological affiliation, in order to strengthen democratic and free social relations in France. Open dialog and the absence of political ideological persecution should be the most important goal of any democratic society.