On 24 September 2021, the French Council of State validated the administrative dissolution of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a decision issued by the Interior Ministry in November 2020.
The dissolution, issued by decree by the government in December 2020, came after a public smear campaign against the collective – which provided legal support to people targeted because of their Muslim faith in France – with the Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, labelling the organisations as an “Islamist officine” working “against the Republic”. Since the government’s announcement, CCIF members received more than 12.000 threats on social networks.
A defamation complaint was filed by the CCIF against Darmanin, in December 2020, before the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR). Already at that time, many French and European civic organisations raised concerns over the legal grounds and arguments presented for the dissolution of CCIF; Sefen Guez Guez, the associations’ lawyer, denounced “slanders” and “a purely political-motivated dissolution”.
CCIF’s statements on the Council of State’s ruling
As reported in a statement by CCIF, after the hearing before the Council of State on 3 September 2021:
“The rapporteur of the Council of State rejected all accusations according to which the CCIF, in its communications, had legitimised acts of terrorism or the use of armed violence. The only and main grievance retained by the Council is CCIF’s definition of Islamophobia (including institutional). […] He also criticised the CCIF for describing and denouncing state-sponsored Islamophobia. For the rapporteur, this constitutes in itself incitement to hatred.”
In another press release published on 24 September 2021, after the Council confirmed CCIF dissolution, the collective said that:
“This decision, because of its target and its motives, is a major turning point in the institutionalisation of harsh repressive politics in France. We express our deep concern about a decision that paves the way for making opinion an offence […] The form, substance and scope of this decision should be a cause for alarm to any member of civil society committed to the rule of law.”
Solidarity from CSOs all around Europe
According to Human Rights Watch, “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.”
Amnesty International considered the Council’s ruling as a proof “that the administrative procedure to dissolve NGOs in France does not comply with international human rights law and can have a chilling effect on human rights defenders and NGOs”.
The Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI) and the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) expressed solidarity with CCIF and deep concern over its dissolution.
On 8 October, the Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH) – France issued a press release, signed jointly with other CSOs, stating that the Council of State’s decision “unfortunately risks to set a precedent, placing a sword of Damocles above associations whose object is the defence of rights and freedoms“:
“In a curious twist, the dissolution of the CCIF is therefore approved on the grounds that by fighting – legally – against anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred, it has made itself guilty of discrimination and hatred… In fact, for the Council of State, ‘criticising without nuance’ public policies or laws that are considered discriminatory is to push the victims of the alleged discrimination down the slope of radicalisation and to invite them to evade the laws of the Republic. In other words, having the impertinence to criticise the state by arguing that it is violating the law is almost an attack.”