Pressure continues to mount on the French government to scrap the controversial Loi Sécurité Globale: a bill which seeks to illegalise the filming of police officers in France. Those who are found to have broken the law, by showing the face or identity of an on-duty officer, could face a prison sentence of up to a year, and a potential fine of up to €45,000. The proposed bill, which passed through France’s lower chamber, L’Assemblée Nationale, in late November, has sparked mass protests across France as well as garnering international condemnation.
Over the weekend, more than 10,000 people took to the streets of Paris to protest against the introduction of the bill, which is seen as a threat to both the freedom of the press, as well as to police accountability. The protest led to the arrests of around 150 protestors, including two journalists. Such scenes were mirrored around France in cities such as Lille, Lyon and Montpellier, where violent clashes led to police using tear gas to disperse crowds. The heavy-handed tactics deployed by the police, as well as the sheer number of arrests made over the weekend has garnered criticism from French Unions. Amongst them, the National Journalist Union – Attac, denounced the “arbitrary arrests” of journalists, who are being held on “baseless charges” and then being retained in custody “without a legitimate motive.”
Last week, the loud calls for the withdrawal of the Loi Sécurité Globale, which have echoed around the streets of French cities for weeks, were amplified by the UN. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that she was “concerned” by the proposal, and that ultimately it should be withdrawn. This statement followed a report by UN human rights experts, who found that the bill was “incompatible with international law and human rights.” They added that “Video images of police abuses captured by the public play an essential role in the overseeing of public institutions, which is fundamental in a country that respects the rule of law.”
The latest protests are yet another violent episode of a quinquennat that – so far – has been defined by violence and civil unrest. From the Gilets Jaunes, whose initial raison-d’être was to rally against the now infamous Réforme des Retraites, to the recent Loi Sécurité Globale protests, Macron’s reforms have, more often than not, been met with violent rejection from the French people. Domestic opposition to Macron’s policies is therefore nothing novel, and such opposition alone may not be sufficient in forcing Macron and his En Marche government to withdraw the controversial bill. However, amidst the widespread protests, a black music producer, Michel Zecler, was beaten by police in Paris. Ironically, the four police officers responsible for the dreadful attack will only be held accountable thanks to citizen-filmed footage of the event. This timely reminder of police brutality in France adds to pre-existing domestic pressures, which, coupled with the scathing UN report, have culminated in a perfect storm that will surely lead to a re-think within the government and could ultimately see the bill being withdrawn.
Macron’s government has so far been unable to see the irony in the Loi Sécurité Globale, a bill that, in fact, does not help, but rather hinders global security. Instead, the indemnity and unaccountability that the bill affords French officers constitute a direct threat to the security of wider society: a fact that recent events in France only emphasise. Macron mistakenly conflates mass censorship with security; he would be wise to reconsider the essential role of accountability, freedom of the press and freedom of information in the functioning of a truly safe and secure society.
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