A Palestinian refugee is waiting to hear if he will be deported from France.
He and his lawyers say the decision to expel him is in retaliation for his refusal to act as an informant for French intelligence services.
Collectif Contre L’Islamophobie en France (CCIF), a group that combats Islamophobia and other forms of racism, is representing the man, who it has named only as Muhammad.
Muhammad is a pharmacist from the Gaza Strip, where his wife and four children still live.
He obtained refugee status in France several years ago. His current problems started about three years ago.
“I was on my way from school back to my house, and as I got close to my house I was surprised to see a huge number of cars,” Muhammad says in a video published by CCIF.
To protect his identity, the video does not show Muhammad’s face.
“Then all of a sudden they grabbed and handcuffed me and told me, ‘get into the car, you are suspected of terrorism,’” he recalls.
Muhammad says he was kept in a solitary confinement cell, except when he was taken out for regular interrogations.
After two days, he says the interrogators told him they had found nothing on him and he was free to go.
“I leave just like that, as if nothing happened?” he recalls telling them.
Some time later, Muhammad says a man came to his house and invited him to take a drive. The man, who identified himself as a director of a French intelligence service, took him to a hotel.
At the hotel, the man told Muhammad, “I invited you here because I want you to work for us.”
Muhammad asked what sort of work. According to Muhammad’s account, the agent replied: “You would work with us in the following way – we would give you details about particular people, in a mosque for example, and you would bring us information about them.”
“I said to him, ‘Listen, you could give me all the money in the world but I am not the kind of person who does things under the table,” Muhammad recalls responding. “I swear to God I will not do this kind of work.”
After this refusal, CCIF says the harassment began.
One day, police showed up at Muhammad’s house and drove him to the airport where they fingerprinted him and took a DNA sample.
Muhammad says again the police accused him of “terrorism.”
His treatment by authorities caused him severe psychological stress and insomnia and he had to see a therapist.
“This is a great injustice,” he says.
But the problems did not stop. Last May, police came and picked him up again and he was placed under assigned residence – effectively house arrest – in a decrepit hotel in the western town of Parthenay.
He says he started to suffer from worsening health problems, including eye and skin infections and an elevated heartbeat.
In October 2015, an item appeared in the newspaper Le Courrier de l’Ouest reporting that a 48-year-old Palestinian “Salafist imam” had been living in assigned residence in Parthenay since the previous May.
It does not name the man, but details correspond to Muhammad’s case. The newspaper provides no source for the information, which could presumably only have come from authorities.
In November, a judge in Poitiers threw out the justifications given by authorities for the assigned residence order.
These were “false justifications linked to [Muhammad’s] religious practice,” according to CCIF.
In the video, Muhammad displays a file that he says contains statements from 145 individuals acting as character witnesses.
Muhammad was nevertheless summoned to Paris on 25 March for a hearing on the revocation of his refugee status.
“He is a Palestinian from Gaza,” his lawyer Liliane Glock says in the video, “and they’ve told him, you must take measures to go elsewhere.”
But Muhammad cannot go back to Gaza, which is under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
“If they want to withdraw his refugee status it’s up to them to show proof that he violated that status,” Glock says.
But she says that in France the system of administrative law accepts as evidence so-called notes blanches – unsigned memos from the intelligence services.
In the current state of emergency, following last November’s atrocities in Paris by suspected members of Islamic State, anything could happen, Glock fears.
Even before the November attacks, Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced plans to “close Salafist mosques” and “expel preachers of hate.”
Abuse and discrimination
Since November, Amnesty International has severely criticized France for its harsh crackdown which it says has had a “disproportionate impact” on Muslims and people accused of membership in leftist groups.
In a report published in February, Amnesty says it has documented cases where “authorities made allegations of serious crime in order to justify assigned residence orders, with little evidence to substantiate those claims.”
The human rights group says “authorities usually took the decision to order assigned residence on the basis of information collected by the intelligence services, included in an intelligence note (note blanche).”
Individuals targeted by assigned residence orders are not given full access to the accusations against them in the intelligence note, even when they challenge the order in court.
By the end of January, more than 350 people had been placed under assigned residence and police had carried out thousands of warrantless searches of homes, businesses and mosques.
Amnesty describes cases of ordinary people whose lives have been turned upside down by baseless accusations.
“Some emergency measures may discriminate against specific groups, especially Muslims, on grounds of their religion or belief,” Amnesty states.
“In particular, in some cases Muslims may have been targeted because of their religious practice, considered to be ‘radical,’ by authorities, without substantiating why they constituted a threat for public order or security. Similarly mosques have been subjected to searches, or in a few cases shut down, because of their alleged ‘radical’ affiliation, without clear elements pointing to the commission of criminal acts of any of the individuals who ran them,” Amnesty adds.
On Friday, accompanied by his lawyer, Muhammad had a hearing in front of OFPRA, the body that adjudicates refugee and asylum applications in France.
A ruling in the case is expected in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, CCIF is urging social media support for Muhammad using the hashtag #MohammedRefugie.
According to CCIF, the state withdrew Muhammad’s basic minimum income in January.
By Tuesday, an online appeal to help him with living expenses had raised almost 5,000 euros.
Whatever the decision by OFPRA on Muhammad’s fate, CCIF says it will “stand by his side until the end, as long as his fundamental rights are not restored.”