The most controversial section of the Global Security Bill – Article 24 – which was approved by lawmakers on Friday, bans the publication of images that identify a law enforcement officer “in the intention to harm them, physically or mentally ”.
The bill – which has been the subject of much criticism and several protests – has been amended by the government, lawmakers say, to guarantee press freedom.
Now that the bill has been passed by the National Assembly, it will travel to the Senate in December.
In a statement ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Prime Minister Jean Castex’s office said the new law should not “undermine the public’s legitimate interest in being informed”.
On Saturday there were further protests against the bill with around 22,000 people taking part in marches across France. In Paris, the crowd included representatives of the media, as well as yellow vests (yellow vest) protesters and members of the Extinction Rebellion.
“Disturbing message to send”
Overall, the Global Security Bill would expand the ability of security forces to film ordinary citizens without their consent through police cameras and drones, while restricting the posting of photos or videos of faces of policemen.
Amnesty International says that if the bill becomes law in its current form, France – one of the first countries in the world to proclaim the concept of universal human rights – will become an exception among democracies.
“If people cannot film anything in the streets when the police can sometimes use force illegally, it is a very worrying message to send”, according to Cécile Coudriou, president of Amnesty International France.
“On the one hand, we ask citizens to accept the possibility of being filmed on the pretext that they have nothing to fear if they have done nothing wrong. And at the same time, the police refuse to be filmed, which is a right in any democracy in the world. ”
Supporters for the bill say it is necessary after police were singled out and harassed on social media during the yellow vest protests of 2018 and 2019. They also say nothing in the bill prevents journalists to do their job, because prosecution would depend on the need to show an “intention to cause harm”.
But Reporters Without Borders considers this provision too vague. “Intent is a concept open to interpretation and difficult to determine,” the organization said in a statement.
“Any photos or videos showing identifiable police officers that are published or broadcast by critical media or are accompanied by critical comments could be accused of seeking to harm those police officers,” the group said.
In parliament, the bill is pushed by two lawmakers from President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche party. One of them, Jean-Michel Fauvergue, the former head of the anti-terrorism police unit, told Parliament this week: “Article 24 aims to prohibit their denunciation and harassment on social networks. , by malicious and dangerous individuals. No worries: journalists will still be able to do their job. ”
The bill’s other co-sponsor, Alice Thourot, told CNN: “The broadcast and capture of images, whether with a camera or by citizens on the phone, of police officers doing their jobs with their faces presentations will always be possible. What will change is that any call for violence or incitement to hatred that accompanies such images will be sanctioned by law. “
Police batons and tear gas
And there are fears that the bill has already emboldened police during the protests.
Last Tuesday, as the debate in the National Assembly began, demonstrators converged on the building to demonstrate against Article 24. Thirty-three demonstrators were arrested, mainly on the grounds that they had not succeeded. to disperse on the orders of the police.
Among them was a journalist from France Television detained overnight before being released the following afternoon without charge. France Television, the country’s main public broadcaster, issued a statement condemning what it called “the abusive and arbitrary arrest of a journalist doing his job.”
At a press conference on Wednesday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin was questioned about the police response to the protests, and the video of a journalist who says the police threatened him with arrest after showing his press card.
“The journalist did not approach the police before the demonstration – as some of his colleagues did – to be allowed to cover it,” Darmanin said. Nothing in French law obliges journalists to seek permission from the police before covering a demonstration.
On Monday evening, the Home Secretary himself responded shortly after a migrant camp in Paris was dismantled, saying some of the footage had been shocking.
Images and videos posted online showed what appeared to be police chasing people through the streets and hitting journalists with police batons and tear gas. Darmanin tweeted that he had demanded a detailed report on the incident, adding: “I will make decisions as soon as I receive them. “
Incitement to hatred
But beyond the journalists’ work, there are also fears about what the bill means for members of the public and what they might capture on their phones.
As Coudriou explains, “There have been so many cases of police brutality recently in France, revealed precisely by the kinds of things that would now become illegal. Amnesty International has used many of these videos after verifying their authenticity. They show how some police brutality could occur despite a constant strategy of denial. ”
Earlier this year, Cédric Chouviat, 42, a father of five of North African origin, died shortly after being arrested by police near the Eiffel Tower. During the stop, filmed by several passing motorists, Chouviat was cornered by three police officers; he died in hospital two days later and his autopsy revealed a fractured larynx, according to the prosecutor in charge of the case.
After several months and an initial denial of any irregularities by the police, the amateur footage partly led to the opening of a criminal investigation into the actions of the police officers involved. Three police officers are now facing manslaughter charges. All deny any wrongdoing
“That would be saying, after George Floyd, we are not going to allow the shooting of the police,” according to David Dufresne, who says that his recent film on police brutality, “The Monopoly of Violence”, would simply not have could not be done if the Global Security Bill was law.
“In France, we have a similar case: Cédric Chouviat,” Dufresne told CNN. “People passing by and seeing that there is a police check that seems to be going wrong. Neither of them knows what happens next, which is the death of this man. When they start filming, it’s because they understand that they have to. “