Thousands of people rally against French bill to limit police identification

Protesters in several cities denounce the bill limiting the publication of photos or videos taken of the faces of officers in action.

Thousands of people in the French capital and other cities have protested against a new government bill that would make it a crime to circulate an image of a policeman’s face.

Under the bill, tabled in Parliament by the ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron La République en Marche, sharing images of police officers on duty “with the aim of harming their physical or psychological integrity” will be punishable by one year. imprisonment and a fine of up to 45,000 euros ($ 53,360).

The other measures proposed are to allow the police to use drones equipped with cameras and to facilitate access to video surveillance images.

Opponents of the bill say the measure would infringe journalists’ freedom of reporting, while supporters say police officers and their families need protection from harassment, both online and in person when are not in use.

On the Place du Trocadéro, in the west of Paris, human rights activists, trade unionists and journalists chanted on Saturday: “Everyone wants to film the police!” and “Freedom!” as the police in riot gear were there.

In addition to media representatives, others included members of the “Yellow Vest” and “Extinction Rebellion” movements, as well as individuals waving the flags of the unions and those of the Communist and Green parties.

Protesters hold signs stating ‘No to the domination of the people’ and ‘Resist’ as they demonstrate in Bayonne, southwestern France, on Saturday November 21, 2020 [Bob Edme/AP]

The bill passed first reading on Friday and there will be a second reading on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Jean Castex declared that this “would remove any ambiguity on the intention to guarantee respect for public freedoms while better protecting those, police and gendarmes, who ensure the protection of the population”.

Journalist unions say this could give the green light to police to prevent them from doing their job and potentially document security force abuses.

An amendment specifies that freedom of the press must in no case be hampered by the proposed measures.

French media are also concerned about potential rights violations through the use of drones to watch protests and facial recognition programs linked to surveillance cameras.

The French police have been implicated in recent years for alleged brutalities inflicted on protesters and criminal suspects, in particular those from black, Arab and other minorities.

People attend a demonstration to protest against a bill that would criminalize the dissemination of an image of the face of a police officer, in Nice, France, November 21, 2020 [Eric Gaillard/Reuters]

In the north of the city of Lille, around 1,000 demonstrators surrendered, one of whom carried a sign in English saying “Orwell was right” in a reference to the dystopian novel, 1984.

Others marched in the Breton city of Rennes and in Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast, where some chanted: “Lower your arms and we will put our phones down”.

Thomas Hochmann, professor of public law at the University of Paris Nanterre, Told Al Jazeera: “This is a serious attack on freedom of expression. There will be great reluctance [for the public and journalists] to broadcast images or even to film. “

In an editorial, Le Monde, meanwhile, said the bill risked “further poisoning” the relationship between citizens and the police. L’Humanité said it was “an authoritarian murder of freedom”.

The United Nations Human Rights Council also made an extraordinary intervention to criticize the “countless problems” of the bill and called on French politicians not to support it.

Claire Hedon, the human rights defender in France – an independent administrative authority but appointed by the president – said in a statement that the legislation poses “considerable risks of violation of several fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy and to freedom of information ”.

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