Protests Erupt in France Over New Security Bill

Ariel Go Jr
Staff Writer

On Saturday, November 28, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Paris, Lille, Strasbourg, and Rennes to marched peacefully in response to growing concerns regarding Article 24 of a controversial proposed security law. The bill aims to restrict people from filming and publishing discernible images of on-duty French police officers with the intent of damaging their “physical or psychological integrity,” The Guardian reports. The Nov. 28 protest was the second  one that week, bringing together thousands of people despite the country’s ongoing lockdown and health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Paris alone, 46,000 people demonstrated against the bill. The crowd included journalists, journalism students, migrants’ rights groups, and left-wing activists, among others. The Guardian reports that during the demonstrations, many carried signs and placards with slogans such as “Stop police violence” and “Democracy bludgeoned.”

Officers stationed in Paris were instructed to behave responsibly during the protests. While everything started conflict-free, violence erupted at the end of the march. A small group of protesters began to throw small rocks at the officers to which the police retaliated by repeatedly firing tear gas to disperse the crowd. This incited minor scuffles and ended up with rioters setting fire to the central bank and the police barricades. BBC News reports that, as a result, 46 people were arrested and over 20 police officers were wounded.

Many critics across France believe the new security bill will limit the freedom of the press, the freedom to inform and be informed, and the freedom of expression. However, according to Politico, President Emmanuel Macron and Gerald Darmanin, the French Interior Minister, have disregarded their criticisms and have pushed forward with the bill. The government disagrees with public sentiment, arguing that the bill does not in any way threaten the rights of the media and citizens to report cases of police brutality and abuses. They claim that the security bill simply intends to give protection to police officers.

In response, opponents have stated that without such images and video recordings, it would be difficult to hold the police accountable for abuses and excessive use of force. French citizens would be dissuaded from filming in any situation of police abuse and violence towards other people because the bill includes a prison sentence of up to a year and a fine of €45,000, or approximately $54,000, for those who do not abide by it. As  The New York Times explains, another heavily-disputed element of the bill is that it authorizes the use of drones to record citizens in public and body cameras worn by police to be livestreamed to the authorities, posing a risk to people’s privacy rights.

According to The Washington Post, the controversial piece of legislation was backed by France’s lower house of parliament on November 24, with 288 in favor of and 104 against the bill, which now awaits Senate approval. The French Senate will vote on the bill  in January, after which there will be a final vote to determine whether or not the law will be implemented.

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