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European rights court hears yearlong house arrest case

A French man suspected of supporting radial Islam is challenging an onerous police house arrest order imposed on him following the 2015 Paris terror attacks.

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Europe’s top rights court heard arguments on Tuesday over whether a 13-month house arrest order imposed on a French man for alleged extremist views violated his human rights. 

Lawyers for David Pagerie argued before the European Court of Human Rights that the restrictions violated his basic rights and were discriminatory, while French authorities claimed Pagerie held extremist views and the country was facing an imminent threat.

Following a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in November 2015, French authorities declared a three-month state of emergency, which was extended five times into 2017.

Several suicide bombers struck a football match in a Paris suburb, another group carried out another mass shooting at a concert venue and a third group attacked restaurants in Paris, leaving more than 130 people dead. It was the deadliest attack in France since the Second World War. 

“States of emergency are a tool set up by democratic states to defend themselves, restore order in the face of an exceptional, imminent peril,” Benoit Chamouard, France’s deputy director of human rights, told the Strasbourg-based court on Tuesday. The measure allowed police to search suspects without a warrant, ban demonstrations and impose house arrest with a trial. 

Ten days after the attacks, Pagerie was summoned to a police station in his hometown of Angers, a city in western France, where he was informed he was being subjected to house arrest. The 34-year-old was required to report to a police station three times a day, not leave his home in the evening and obtain permission before leaving the city. 

Originally from the East African country of Djibouti, Pagerie converted to Islam in 2007 and, according to French authorities, was practicing an especially radical form. While he was incarcerated in 2012 for theft, he corresponded with suspected terrorists and prison officials said he started fights, espoused anti-Semitic ideas and favored establishing an Islamic state in France. 

Pagerie contested his house arrest order at the Administrative Court of Nantes, which upheld it. He then appealed to the Council of State, France’s highest court, which also ruled against him in 2016, citing Pagerie’s refusal to condemn the November attacks as evidence the house arrest order was justified. Ultimately, despite 22 appeals, he spent 13 months living under house arrest. 

“Can we say that the life of a nation was under threat?” Pagerie's lawyer, Claire Waquet, asked the 10-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights.

Waquet argued that although an initial response to the attack may have been justified, the repeated extensions of her client’s confinement violated his rights under the European Convention of Human Rights. The treaty, which created the court in 1959, protects the political and civil rights of Europeans. 

According to his lawyers, the house arrest led Pagerie to lose his job and his home.

“He has nothing anymore, no home, no work, no dignity,” said Sami Khankan, another member of Pagerie's legal team.

France pointed to Pagerie’s later incarceration for violating the terms of his house arrest as evidence that he was a potential threat. In August 2016, police found evidence he was sharing pro-terrorist information online, including videos of terrorist violence. He was sentenced to two years in jail but was released early on a technicality. 

In June, 19 of the 20 defendants tried for the attacks were convicted after a 10-month trial. Only 14 were in French custody, while the remaining six were tried in absentia. Only one man, Salah Abdeslam, had participated in the attacks themselves. The 33-year-old Belgian national was the only member of the group taken alive. All of the other attackers died during the events. 

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