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French parliament adopts controversial security law

The bill, which would limit the spread of ‘malicious’ images of police officers, passed 388 to 104 votes, but critics say it may not pass through the Senate

25 November 2020
The French parliament.  French parliament adopts controversial ‘security’ lawMPs voted in favour of the controversial law, which will now be debated by the Senate
By Hannah Thompson

The French parliament has adopted a controversial new law on police “security” - but its critics say the law is a “disproportionate attack” on public freedoms and a sign of  "authoritarian Macronism”.

The Assemblée Nationale voted 388 in favour of the bill, 104 against, with 66 abstentions. The law will now be examined by the Senate in January.

The bill is controversial, with opponents calling it a “freedom-killing” text.

The law was presented by ruling party La République en marche (LRM) and its ally, Agir Ensemble. Its aim is to bring in more legislation around the use of public images, and help improve security, proponents say.

The law includes legislation on the use of drones, and police body cameras, but article 24 of the bill has prompted controversy, as it would limit the “malicious” spread of photos and images of police officers.

The interior minister has called the move a “war on images” that targets law enforcement in a negative light. The bill would seek to “protect those that protect us” and stop police officers from being “thrown to the wolves on social networks”.

The bill would impose sanctions of up to €45,000 and up to a year in prison for spreading “the image of the face or other identifying element” of police officers and law enforcement during interventions, when this constitutes an “attack on their physical or mental integrity”.

Prime Minister Jean Castex has said that he will consult with constitutional advisory council le Conseil Constitutionnel on the controversial article, but said that he felt the bill was “an excellent text” overall.

 

‘Attack’ on freedom

Critics have said that the law is a “disproportionate attack” on people’s freedom to share information and be informed, and have called the bill a “new evidence of authoritarian Macronism”.

Comments from interior minister Gérald Darmanin, who previously called for “mandatory accreditation” of all journalists covering demonstrations and protests, but then retracted the statement, have not helped to ease the controversy.

The controversial article was included in the bill at the last moment, with MPs voting 146 to 24 to include it. It states that the law must not “attack people’s right to be informed” and that actions punished by the proposed law must be “obvious” in their malicious intent.

But opposition leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of Les Républicains, has said that if he were to be elected president in 2022, he would repeal the “global security” law, saying that France was becoming “an authoritarian regime of widespread surveillance”.

Mr Macron has even faced opposition from his own supporters on the bill - 33 MPs who voted for him in 2017 have asked that he retract the proposal. Even the European Commission has warned that journalists “must be able to do their job safely and freely”.

MP Nathalie Sarles, of La République en Marche, told news service France Bleu: “I do not believe in an authoritarian state, and I will not vote for this text.”

The Senate is now expected to examine the bill, and there is some doubt on whether it will pass.

Senator Philippe Bas, of the Les Républicains party, said that the bill was “unenforceable and unconstitutional” and called it “an attack on the freedom of the press”.

He also said that the bill was a “fool’s bargain” for the police, who would be unlikely to benefit much from it, and added that “the Senate will have to correct” the text.

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