French Police Clash With Protesters Over New Security Law as Cracking Down on Freedoms

Published November 22nd, 2020 - 07:28 GMT
(AFP/File Photo)
(AFP/File Photo)
Proposed legislation would make it illegal to publish images of police officer 'with intent to cause them harm'.

Police clashed with demonstrators who took to the streets in France today to protest against a proposed security law which civil liberties campaigners say would impinge on freedom of information and media rights.

The pending legislation would create a new criminal offence for publishing images of police officers with intent to cause them harm. Offenders would face a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison and a 45,000 euro (£40,000) fine.

The government says the proposal is intended to protect police officers from online calls for violence. 

But critics fear that, if enacted, the measure would endanger journalists and other observers who take videos of officers at work, especially during violent demonstrations. 

In Paris, an estimated 7,000 demonstrators today gathered on the Trocadero square near the Eiffel Tower, chanting 'Freedom, freedom' and 'Everyone wants to film the police.'

It is understood roughly 22,000 people took part in demonstrations nationwide.  

Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd as minor scuffles broke out at the end of the demonstration. Paris police said 23 people were detained and an officer was slightly injured.

Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International France, the Human Rights League, journalists' unions and other groups encouraged people to attend the protest. The crowd included many journalists and students.  

'We are not here to defend a privilege of our profession, press freedom and journalists' freedom,' Edwy Plenel, co-founder and editor of investigative website Mediapart, said. 'We are here to defend fundamental rights, the rights of all people.' 

Some members of the anti-government yellow vest movement also joined the demonstration.

In the northern city of Lille, a demonstrator carried an English-language sign that said 'Orwell was right' in a reference to the dystopian novel '1984'.


Rallies were also held in the Brittany city of Rennes, and in Marseille and Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast, where some chanted: 'Put down your arms and we'll put down our telephones.'

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and France's human rights ombudsman have voiced concerns that the new provision could undermine fundamental rights.

In response to the criticism, French prime minister Jean Castex said on Thursday that the measure would be amended to specify that it 'won't impede the freedom of information' and that it will focus only on images broadcast with 'clear' intent to harm a police officer.

Emmanuel Poupard, secretary general of the National Journalists Union (SNJ), said today that he believes the new amendment 'doesn't change anything.'

The police image law 'has only one goal: to boost the sense of impunity of law enforcement officers and make invisible police brutality,' he said.

Protesters argue that recording officers in action is essential to being able to condemn and curb the actions of violent officers. They also worry how courts would determine whether images were posted with intent to harm.

In July, three French police officers were charged with manslaughter over the death of a delivery man, Cedric Chouviat, which bystanders caught on video.

Mr Chouviat's death had similarities with the killing of George Floyd in the US state of Minneapolis, which sparked outrage around the world and a series of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in France.

The proposed law is championed by legislators from President Emmanuel Macron's party, which has a majority in the National Assembly.

Legislators are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the bill, which also includes other security measures. It will then go to the French senate.

This article has been adapted from its original source.   

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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