France rejects criticism of 'ethnic profiling' of suspects after Paris attacks

French Republican guards stand during a ceremony to pay tribute to the victims of terrorist attacks in France on Jan 10, 2016.
French Republican guards stand during a ceremony to pay tribute to the victims of terrorist attacks in France on Jan 10, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP) - The French government on Wednesday (Jan 13) rejected criticism from Europe's top human rights watchdog that it was "ethnically profiling" suspects as part of the state of emergency imposed after the November attacks in Paris.

"I challenge what was said, particularly on ethnic profiling," said government spokesman Mr Stephane Le Foll.

"It is absolutely contrary to what has happened," he added.

The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks said on Tuesday that France's state of emergency could constitute a "threat" to democracy.

"There is a risk that these measures could sap the system of democratic control," said Mr Muiznieks, citing concerns over ethnic profiling of suspects facing police searches.

But Mr Le Foll said: "The state of emergency was put in place, rules were set in a debate in the National Assembly and they have been strictly respected and applied."

Under the state of emergency, which has been extended to late February, French police can raid homes and place people under house arrest without judicial oversight.

Nearly seven out of 10 French people said they supported a further extension beyond February, according to a YouGov poll for Huffington Post and iTele published on Wednesday.

The government also plans to make it easier to call a state of emergency and protect it from legal challenges by enshrining it in the Constitution.

Since the measures came into force after the attacks by radical Islamists in November which left 130 dead and 350 injured, the authorities have carried out thousands of searches but "only a few of them have led to procedures linked to terrorist acts", according to Mr Muiznieks.