French protesters denounce bill banning the use of police images

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Tens of thousands of critics of a security bill that would restrict the shooting of police protested across France on Saturday, and officers in Paris who were urged to behave responsibly during the protests fired at several times tear gas to disperse the rowdy demonstrators who set the French on fire. central bank and laid paving stones.

The mood was largely peaceful, however, as dozens of rallies were held against a provision in the law that would make it a crime to post photos or videos of police officers on duty with the intent to harm their “physical integrity.” or psychological ”.

Civil liberties groups, journalists and those who have been victims of police violence fear that the measure will undermine press freedom and allow police brutality to go unpunished and unpunished.

“We need to broaden the debate, and in doing so, we are saying that if there was no police violence, we would not have to film violent police officers”, Assa Traoré, a prominent anti-brutality activist whose brother died in custody in 2016, told The Associated Press.

She was among at least 46,000 people who filled the vast Place de la République and the surrounding streets carrying red union flags, French tricolor flags and homemade signs denouncing police violence, demanding media freedom or calling for to the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron or his hard interior. Minister, Gerald Darmanin.

The crowd included journalists, journalism students, left-wing activists, migrant rights groups and politically-minded citizens expressing their anger at what they perceive as a hardening of police tactics in recent years. , especially since the French protest movement of yellow vests against the economic difficulties appeared in 2018.

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Violence erupted towards the end of the march as small groups of protesters pelted riot police with small stones and cobblestones. Officers responded with bursts of tear gas, sparking minor clashes. The rioters then set fire to the facade of the central bank and the police barricades; in the melee fire trucks struggled to reach the site.

Macron’s government says the law is needed to protect the police from threats and attacks from a violent fringe.

But the editor of the French newspaper Le Monde, Luc Bronner, argued during the protest that the law banning the publication of pictures of officers was unnecessary.

“There are already laws that protect public servants, including police forces, when they are targeted, and that is legitimate – the police do a very important job,” Bronner said. “But that’s not what it is. It is about limiting the ability of citizens and with them, journalists, to document police violence when it occurs.

While journalists have been most candid about the security bill, it could have an even greater impact on the efforts of non-journalists who film police during aggressive arrests, especially minorities who may try to fight against police abuse and discrimination with seconds of cell phone. video.

“There have been all these demonstrations this summer against police violence, and this law shows that the government has not heard us… It is impunity. This is what makes us angry, ”said Kenza Berkane, 26, a participant in the protest.

Berkane, who is French and of North African descent, said she was repeatedly arrested by police for identity checks on the metro or while going to school. while white friends were allowed to pass. “We ask ourselves, when will this end?”

The cause has taken on renewed importance in recent days after the broadcast of images of French police beating a black man, triggering a national outcry.

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Last Friday, Macron spoke out against the video footage, saying “they shame us”.

The video that surfaced Thursday showed the beating of music producer Michel Zecler, after images of the brutal police evacuation Tuesday of migrants in a Parisian square. Officers implicated in Zecler’s beating have been suspended pending an internal police investigation.

An internal letter from Parisian police prefect Didier Lallement called on police officers to use “probity, a sense of honor and ethics” during police demonstrations on Saturday, which were authorized by authorities despite the lockdown partial virus in France.

For most of the march, the police stayed behind, chatting while holding their helmets or silently watching the protesters shouting “Shame!” on them.

The crowd was extremely peaceful, but some of the unruly minority came equipped with gas masks and helmets.

Section 24 of the Security Bill criminalizes posting images of police officers with intent to cause harm. Anyone found guilty could be sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($ 53,000).

Many protesters, police and journalists have been injured in protests in recent years, including several Associated Press journalists.

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Prime Minister Jean Castex on Friday announced he would appoint a committee to reformulate Article 24, but backed down after hearing angry lawmakers. The committee is now expected to make new proposals by early next year on media-police relations.

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