Thousands protest across France against new security law

Huge crowds were seen across the country this weekend in protest at the controversial new law, with clashes erupting in several cities

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Organisers say 500,000 people marched in France yesterday against a proposed controversial new security law, and alleged police violence and racism, with some clashes erupting in major towns.

The Interior Ministry said 133,000 people came out to march.

Read more: Why is there often a difference in protestor numbers between what authorities and organisers say?

Protesters marched on Saturday November 28, with more than 100 protests organised across the country. There were large crowds in cities including Paris, Lyon, Rennes, and Strasbourg. Images appear to show most marchers were wearing masks.

They were notably protesting against part of the new law that prohibits spreading of photos and images of police officers - ie. photos and video footage - intended to make the police look bad.

It comes also as video images of a black music producer being assaulted by police (prior to this weekends protests) caused outrage. President Macron described them as unacceptable and shameful and said the police must be exemplary. Four policemen are being questioned over the incident.

Protester placards included slogans such as “lower your weapons and we will lower our cameras”, “Who will protect us from the [ferocious] law enforcement?”, “Smile, you are on camera”, “Who will police the police?” and “Police, we see you when you are abusive”.

Most of the marches were peaceful, but there were reports of some “black block”, intentionally-violent elements. Some protesters threw fireworks at police, built barriers, and threw stones. Some cars were burned, as was a newspaper kiosk, and a brasserie.

Clashes were reported in Paris, Lyon, and Rennes, and nine people were arrested in Paris, the police prefecture confirmed.

Police responded to the alleged violence with tear gas and “grenades” designed to dispel crowds.

One protester in Marseille, Thérèse Bourgeois, from La Ligue des Droits de l'Homme, said: “These laws are made to muzzle opposition and resistance.”

Following the protests the association Reporters sans Frontières denounced violence against a Syrian reporter, who it said was injured by a police baton blow to the face. An inquiry has been opened into the circumstances.

Meanwhile the Interior Ministry reported that 98 police officers and gendarmes were injured during the protests, saying those responsible would be prosecured.

There were 81 arrests during the protests.

What is the controversial law?

The protests come after the proposed law - dubbed la loi sécurité globale - was passed in parliament last week. The law is set to be examined by the Senate in January - although some say it is unlikely to be passed by the higher house.

Read more: French parliament adopts controversial security law

The bill 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 spreading (on social media, notably) of images and videos of police officers.

The interior minister has called the move a “war against images” that target 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, by whatever means, “the image of the face or other identifying element” of police officers and gendarmes during the course of their police work, when the intention of this is to cause "harm to their physical or mental well-being”.

This broad expression appears to mean, for example, that it is banned if the publication could cause the officer depicted distress or put them in danger of retaliation.

Why is it controversial?

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”.

Senator Philippe Bas, of the Les Républicains party, has said that the bill is “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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