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French Court Confirms Dissolution of Anti-Discrimination Group

Decision Likely to Have Chilling Effect on Civil Society in France and Beyond

Protesters hold a banner at a demonstration against a bill dubbed as "anti-separatism" and islamophobic in Paris, France on March 21, 2021. © 2021 ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

On September 24, France’s top administrative court, the Council of State, approved the French authorities’ December 2020 dissolution of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a leading anti-discrimination group. The court’s decision seriously damages the country’s self-proclaimed reputation as a champion of freedom of expression and association.

Over the years, CCIF has played a key role in providing legal support to people facing anti-Muslim discrimination and documenting the discriminatory impact on Muslims of France’s counterterrorism measures.

In its judgment, the court said that CCIF’s denunciation of France’s hostility toward Muslims in its fight against terrorism, as well as the group’s failure to “moderate” third parties’ antisemitic and other hostile comments in response to CCIF social media posts, constitute incitement to discrimination, hatred, and violence, justifying the decision to close it down. The court also accepted disputed allegations that CCIF maintained close links with supporters of radical Islamism, including through its former executive director.

Under international and European human rights law, states can only interfere with rights to freedom of association, freedom of religion and belief, and freedom of expression when such interference has a lawful basis, is necessary and proportionate. Dissolving an independent organization should be a measure of last resort in the event it advocates a clear, imminent threat of violence or has acted in grave violation of the law. The Council of State rejected all other arguments by the French government that CCIF gave rise to such a threat, yet nevertheless upheld the decision to close it down.

The dissolution of CCIF is part of a broader crackdown by French authorities in response to attacks attributed to Islamist extremists. A controversial law intended to “fight against separatism and attacks on [French] citizenship” was adopted last August, prompting concerns from France’s national human rights commission and the European Commission.

The closure of CCIF and last week’s ruling are likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and association of those working on non-discrimination in France and elsewhere in Europe. Shuttering CCIF weakens the country’s credibility as a champion for rights and sets a dangerous example for governments quick to use vaguely defined laws to silence critics. French authorities should stop pushing censorship on civil society organizations and instead demonstrate their commitment to freedom of expression and association, and their determination to fight discrimination.

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