Thousands protested in Paris against a controversial “Global Security Bill.” The demonstrations held on the Trocadero Square in western Paris were attended by rights activists, trade unionists and journalists. Article 24 of the bill would effectively criminalize the publication of photos depicting the faces or identifying features of police officers “with the intention that they should be harmed,” physically or mentally. Should an individual be found guilty of the crime, they face up to one year in prison and a 45,000 Euro fine. Critics accuse the bill of undermining fundamental rights, including freedom of the press. Opponents of the law argue that recordings are necessary, in order to condemn and curb violent police actions. Although the global security bill was passed by the National Assembly on November 24th, the law cannot take effect until it is approved by the Senate in January.
The law is supported by members of President Emmanuel Macron’s party, La Republique en Marche, which currently holds a majority in the French National Assembly. Lawmakers from the party, Jean-Michel Fauvergue and Alice Thourot, co-sponsored the bill. As the former head of the police anti-terrorism unit, Fauvergue told parliament that “article 24 aims to ban their exposure and their harassment on social networks, by malicious and dangerous individuals. No worries: Journalists will still be able to do their job.” The controversial bill additionally received support from Gerald Darmanin, the French Interior Minister, defending the law as “protecting those who protect us.” However, Claire Hédon, the journalist currently serving as France’s independent Defender of Human Rights, claims that the “publication of images relating to police interventions are legitimate and necessary for democratic functioning.”
International organizations additionally criticized Section 24 of the Global Security Bill. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations released a report regarding the proposed law, which could lead to violations of the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression. Further, Amnesty International claimed that should the bill pass into law, in its current form, France will become “an exception among democracies.” In response to the rampant criticism of the proposed law, on November 21st, an amendment was drafted. As a result, article 24 was modified to include the phrase “without prejudice to the right to inform.” According to French Prime Minister Jean Castex, because of the amendment, article 24 will no longer impede freedom of information, and will only impact images publicized with the “clear” aim to harm an officer. However, as critics point out, it will presumably remain up to the courts to determine what constitutes “clear” intent to harm.
Approximately 22,000 people participated in marches in order to protest the bill. Further, over one hundred from human rights groups and the journalists union demonstrated in front of the National Assembly. Protesters held signs which said, “We’ll put down our smart phones when you put down your weapons.” The law is perceived as particularly controversial, as French police officers’ use of violence has come under intense scrutiny. Bystanders captured video footage of three officers pinning Cedric Chouviat, a delivery man of North African descent. The police involved were charged with manslaughter, as Chouviat died in the hospital two days later, although all three deny culpability. Accusations of institutional racism and brutality were again levelled at the police, after the dismantling of a refugee camp in central Paris. Videos show police tipping migrants out of their tents, using riot shields as weapons, and attacking refugees and journalists with truncheons and teargas. Just days ago, Michel Zecler, a black music producer approaching a recording studio without a mask, was beaten and insulted by several officers. A racial slur was also used against him. A video of the incident has been viewed eight million times on social media.
The implications of article 24 are alarming as journalists are already facing pressure as a result of the controversial law. A France Television journalist was among a protest outside of the National Assembly and was held overnight after being taken in for questioning. He was released without charge. France Television, the nation’s primary public broadcaster, condemned the “abusive and arbitrary arrest of a journalist who was doing his job.”
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