Paris: France`s president proposed a sweeping
new law on Friday that would jail those who visit extremist web
sites -- one of several tough new measures floated in the wake
of a murderous shooting spree.
The proposed rules, unveiled by Nicolas Sarkozy after the
death of an Islamist fanatic wanted for a horrifying series of
execution-style murders, have alarmed journalists and legal
experts, who say they risk pulling the plug on free
Sarkozy argued that it was time to treat those who browse
extremist websites the same way as those who consume child
"Anyone who regularly consults Internet sites which
promote terror or hatred or violence will be sentenced to
prison," he told a campaign rally in Strasbourg, in eastern
France. "What is possible for pedophiles should be possible
for trainee terrorists and their supporters, too."
How the proposed rules would work isn`t clear. When
asked, Sarkozy`s office directed the query for details to the
Ministry of Justice, which didn`t immediately offer
clarification. Journalists and lawyers are concerned.
"Trying to criminalize a visit, a simple visit, to a
website, that`s something that seems disproportionate," said
Lucie Morillon, who runs the new media bureau of journalists`
watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.
"What`s especially worrying for us is how you are going
to know who`s looking at what site. Does this announcement
mean the installation of a global Internet surveillance system
Media lawyer Christophe Bigot seconded her concerns,
saying that any such law, if passed, would be a serious blow
to the democratic credentials of a country that considers
itself the home of human rights.
"I don`t see how you can assume that a person who
connects (to an extremist website) not only shares the ideas
that are being expressed there but is ready to act on them,"
Bigot said. "That seems to be a very dangerous shortcut, — a
real step back in terms of individual liberty."
Bigot said it wasn`t clear to him to what degree
Sarkozy`s proposals were serious. The president is only a
month from a close election and has France`s far-right nipping
at his heels, so he`s been under pressure to appear tough.
The tightening presidential race has been upended by the
shooting rampage blamed on Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old
Frenchman of Algerian descent who allegedly killed three
French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi
before dying in a violent confrontation with police in the
southern French city of Toulouse this morning.