PARIS (AP) – Thousands of critics of a security bill that would restrict the sharing of images of police officers in France gathered across the country to protest on Saturday, while Parisian officers were asked to behaving responsibly during protests following footage of police officers using violence becomes public knowledge.
Dozens of rallies against a provision in the law which would criminalize the publication of photos or videos of police officers on duty with the intention of harming their “physical or psychological integrity”. Civil liberties groups and journalists fear the measure could undermine press freedom and allow police brutality to go undetected and go unpunished.
In Paris, several thousand people invaded the vast Place de la République and the surrounding streets carrying red union flags, French tricolor flags and homemade signs denouncing police violence, demanding freedom of the media or calling for the resignation of the minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin.
The crowd included journalists, journalism students, left-wing activists, migrant rights groups and politically-minded citizens expressing their anger at what they perceive to be a hardening police tactic in recent years. , in particular since the protest movement of French yellow vests against the economic difficulties in 2018.
Many protesters, police and journalists have been injured in protests in recent years, including several Associated Press journalists.
“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. That’s what makes us angry, ”said protest participant Kenza Berkane, 26.
Berkane, who is French and of North African descent, said she was repeatedly arrested by police for identity checks in the metro or while going to school. while white friends were allowed to pass. “We wonder when is this going to 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.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke out against the video footage on Friday, saying “they make us ashamed”.
The video which surfaced Thursday showed the beating, a few days earlier, of music producer Michel Zecler, following footage of the brutal evacuation by police on Tuesday of migrants in a Parisian square. Police officers involved in Zecler’s beating have been suspended pending an internal police investigation.
An internal letter from the Paris police prefect, Didier Lallement, called on the police to use “probity, a sense of honor and ethics” during police demonstrations, which have been authorized by the authorities. An Associated Press reporter at the protest in Paris saw police hanging from side streets.
Section 24 of the Security Bill criminalizes posting images of police officers with intent to cause harm. Anyone found guilty could face a sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($ 53,000).
Although reporters have been the 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 police abuse and discrimination with seconds of cell phone use. video.
Protesters calling for the article to be withdrawn say it goes against “fundamental public freedoms” of their democracy.
Agathe Le Gall, a 26-year-old job seeker, said the proposal “is like the beginning of the end” because she fears the laws will get harsher and harder.
“All these videos that we see online, we know that behind these incidents there are thousands more that are not recorded,” Agathe said on Saturday. “I am lucky to be white because I am not targeted” by the police.
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.