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What Exactly Does France's State Of Emergency Entail?

The law empowers authorities to impose curfews, shut down cultural venues, order house arrests, confiscate weapons and regulate the press.

by VICE News
Nov 16 2015, 8:10pm

Photo par Yoan Valat/EPA

Addressing both chambers of parliament in a joint session on Monday, French President François Hollande said he would seek to extend to three months the "state of emergency" declared after Friday's terror attacks in the capital.

According to a 60-year old French law known as Law #55-385 of April 3, 1955, the president can declare a 12-day state of emergency in "cases of imminent danger resulting from serious breaches of public order."

The state of emergency is declared by decree of France's Council of Ministers, which is chaired by the president. Any extension of its 12-day term is subject to parliamentary approval. The current state of emergency affects "metropolitan France and Corsica" i.e.  only the country's European territory, not its overseas territories.

In his speech, Hollande said he would present a bill before parliament Wednesday "to extend the state of emergency and to adapt its content to the evolution of technologies and threats." He asked parliamentarians to vote on the new legislation by the end of the week.

As part of the decree, authorities can "forbid the movement of persons" and "establish areas of protection and security."

This means district authorities — also known as prefects — can impose curfews and regulate the movements of people and vehicles in certain areas. The law also allows prefects to kick out of their district anyone who doesn't comply with the aforementioned measures.

As part of the state of emergency, the interior minister can also put under house arrest anyone "whose activity is deemed dangerous for security and public order." The law does however specify that those under house arrest must be in close proximity to a town, and forbids the creation of "detention camps" to house suspects.

Authorities are also able to carry out searches day and night, and to order people to hand over weapons and ammunition — including legally-owned weapons such as hunting guns. The decree says weapons used for hunting will be returned to their owners intact once the decree is lifted.

During his address Monday, Hollande said that 104 individuals had been placed under house arrest over the weekend and that police had carried out 168 searches across the country.

The decree also gives the interior minister and prefects the authority to temporarily close down any concert halls, venues, meeting places and bars if they deem it necessary. They can also ban any gathering that could constitute a threat to the public order.

Authorities are also allowed to take measures to control the press and regulate publications, radio broadcasts, film projections and theatrical performances.

Those who do not comply with the measures set out by the decree face from eight days to two months in prison and a fine between 11 and 3,750 euros.

In 2005, then-President Jacques Chirac declared a state of national emergency during the 2005 riots that were triggered by the death of two teens fleeing from the police in the Paris suburbs. At the time, the state of emergency was in force in Paris and the surrounding area and in 24 French departments, or districts.