Brussels tells France to protect journalists as MPs prepare to back controversial security bill

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Brussels reminded France on Monday that journalists must be able to “work freely and safely”, warning that it will examine the controversial country’s security bill to ensure it complies with EU law.French lawmakers in the lower house of the National Assembly will vote on the global security bill on Tuesday afternoon. The bill would make it illegal to share images of law enforcement officers for “malicious purposes”, with anyone who is victimized by up to one year in prison and a fine of € 45,000.

The bill, introduced by the centrist majority of President Emmanuel Macron, has been sharply criticized by journalists and rights groups who say it would restrict press freedom and lead to less police accountability.

Thousands of people also took to the streets of the country over the weekend to denounce it, despite a lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A spokesperson for the European Commission stressed on Monday that “when Member States draft security legislation, they must respect the principle of proportionality and strike the right balance between ensuring public security and protecting rights and freedoms of citizens, including freedom of speech, press freedom. ”

“The Commission refrains from commenting on bills, but it goes without saying that in times of crisis it is more important than ever, and we have said it often in different contexts, that journalists can make their mark. work freely and safely.

“As always, the Commission reserves the right to examine the final legislation in order to verify its conformity with European Union law,” he added.

The law initially required that all images of the police disseminated by the press or on social networks be blurred so that the agents were not identifiable to “protect those who protect us”.

Statements by ministers calling for journalists to be accredited by the police to cover the protests have raised further alarm.

French human rights ombudsperson Claire Hédon said the bill “raises considerable risks of violation of several fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy and freedom of information.”

The law was later amended to penalize those who disseminate an image in which the police are identifiable “with the intention of causing them harm”.

But groups representing journalists argued Tuesday in a letter to Prime Minister Jean Castex that “the vague and very broad definition of crime thus created would have deleterious effects on journalistic and editorial work”.

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