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France: Six French Citizens Prohibited from Leaving Under New Anti-Terrorism Law

(Feb. 26, 2015) A key provision of a new antiterrorism law was recently applied for the first time in France, when authorities confiscated the passports of six would-be jihadist fighters who were believed to be about to leave for Syria. (Six djihadistes français sur le depart privés de passeports [Passports Taken Away from Six Jihadists About to Leave], LE FIGARO (Feb. 23, 2015).)

In November 2014, France adopted a new law to reinforce its fight against terrorism. (Loi n° 2014-1353 du 13 novembre 2014 renforçant les dispositions relatives à la lutte contre le terrorisme [Law No. 2014-1353 of November 13, 2014, Strengthening Provisions on the Fight Against Terrorism] (Nov. 13, 2014), LEGIFRANCE; see also Nicolas Boring, France: Legislators Considering New Law to Fight Terrorism, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Sept. 30, 2014).) One of the more noteworthy provisions of this new law allows the government to prohibit a French citizen from leaving French territory when there are serious reasons to believe that he/she is planning on leaving to join a terrorist group or participate in terrorist activities. (Loi No. 2014-1353, art. 1; Code de la Sécurité Intérieure [Interior Security Code] (as updated through Feb. 19, 2015), art. L224-1, LEGIFRANCE.)

This provision was applied for the first time on February 23, 2015, when French authorities confiscated the passports and identity cards of six men between the ages of 23 and 28, whom French intelligence services believed were preparing for an “imminent” departure for Syria. (La France confisque pour la première fois les passeports de six ressortissants prêts à partir pour la Syrie [For the First Time, France Confiscates the Passports of Six Nationals Ready to Leave for Syria], FRANCETVINFO.FR (Feb. 23, 2015).) Some of the would-be jihadists were first brought to the attention of French intelligence services when their relatives called a telephone hotline maintained by the Ministry of Interior for that purpose. (Id.) Others were identified during investigations conducted by the Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure (Directorate General for Interior Security), the main French domestic intelligence agency. (Id.)

These six individuals are now prohibited from leaving France for a period of six months, renewable to last for up to two years. (Loi No. 2014-1353, art. 1; Code de la Sécurité Intérieure, art. L224-1.) If they were to be caught trying to leave France, they could be sentenced to up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of up to €45,000 (about US$51,000). (Id.) This prohibition could be challenged in an administrative court within two months of its imposition. (Id.)

The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has stated that “there will be others” who would be prohibited from leaving the territory on suspicion of joining a terrorist organization, and an AFP source has indicated that approximately 40 similar cases are currently being investigated. (La France confisque pour la première fois les passeports de six ressortissants prêts à partir pour la Syrie, supra.)