French Assemblée votes in divisive ‘anti-vandal’ law

The vote passed by 387 to 92 but 74 MPs abstained over the controversial proposal

The French Assemblée Nationale has voted in a controversial new “anti-vandal” bill by 387 to 92, in response to the violence seen during some of the gilets jaunes protests since November.

The proposed law, known as the “loi anti-casseurs” in French (meaning “anti-breakers/smashers law”), would explicitly make it illegal to cause physical damage during a protest.

It would also enforce more stringent laws on protesters, could ask vandals to pay for any damage they inflict, and forbid protesters from covering their face or otherwise hiding their identity during a march.

The bill, which is now one step closer to becoming law, will be examined by the Senate on March 12, before coming back to the Assemblée.

It remains controversial.

A record 50 MPs from ruling party La République en Marche (LREM) abstained from the vote, and 74 MPs abstained in total. The law was least popular among left-leaning MPs.

Stéphane Peu, Communist party MP for Seine-Saint-Denis, said: “[There have been] 11 people dead, thousands injured and mutilated, and exhausted law enforcement. [The government’s] only solid response is the repression and the limiting of public freedoms.

“This anti-gilets jaunes law, which reduces the freedom of protest, is useless, counter-productive, and dangerous.”

Yet, some MPs said that the law was necessary to help restore order.

Éric Ciotti, LREM MP for Alpes-Maritimes, said: “[Interior minister] Christophe Castaner is incapable of restoring order. This law is a life vest in his sinking ship. The text is not perfect, but it improves things.

"Protesting is a right, but smashing things is a crime. Those that scream ‘dictatorship’ or the Vichy regime are exaggerating and even being ridiculous.”

Yet, the proposal has been criticised by human rights group Amnesty International, who said that it risks the criminalisation of peaceful protesters and may “dissuade a great number of peaceful protesters from using their right to protest”.

Mathieu Orphelin, LREM MP who abstained, said: “There is still work to do. We did not have time to find the best compromise. We will do it when it comes back a second time.”

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