Thousands march in France against Bill on filming police

Critics say Bill a nod for worst elements in the force but supporters say police need protection from harassment

Protesters demonstrating near the Eiffel Tower last Saturday against a controversial draft law that would limit the filming of on-duty police officers in France.
Protesters demonstrating near the Eiffel Tower last Saturday against a controversial draft law that would limit the filming of on-duty police officers in France.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PARIS • Thousands of people protested in French cities over the weekend against a draft law that would limit the filming of on-duty police officers, a move condemned as a curb on press freedom.

The biggest gathering of around 7,000 was near the Eiffel Tower in Paris and was closely watched by police, who engaged in minor skirmishes with a small group of protesters after the rally was over.

By 7.45pm last Saturday, 23 people had been arrested and a police officer slightly injured, the police prefecture tweeted.

Rallies were also held in the Brittany city of Rennes, and in Marseille and Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast, where some chanted: "Put down your arms and we'll put down our phones".

Overall, police and local government data indicated that roughly 22,000 people had taken part in demonstrations nationwide.

In addition to media representatives, others included members of the "Yellow Vest" and "Extinction Rebellion" movements, along with individuals waving flags of the communist and green parties, and the FO trade union.

A banner deployed by the news agency Mediapart in Paris declared that "Democracy dies in obscurity".

Mr Edwy Plenel, chief editor of Mediapart, an investigative news website, said the proposed legislation was "a green light for the worst elements in the police".

"Those in power are increasingly trying to prevent citizens, journalists and whistle-blowers from revealing the failures of the state. When this happens, democracy fades away," he added.

Supporters say police officers and their families need protection from harassment, both online and in person when off duty.

Opponents say the law would infringe journalists' freedom to report, and make it harder to hold police accountable for abuses such as excessive use of force - a growing public concern.

The offence would carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a €45,000 (S$71,700) fine.

Last Tuesday, two journalists were detained in a protest that led to clashes with police as lawmakers in the National Assembly began debating the Bill, which is backed by President Emmanuel Macron's party and its parliamentary allies.

The Bill passed its first reading last Friday and there will be a second reading tomorrow. It then goes to the Senate for further debate before it can become law.

An amendment drafted by the government and approved last Friday modified the Article in question, 24, to add the phrase "without prejudice to the right to inform".

Prime Minister Jean Castex said 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".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2020, with the headline 'Thousands march in France against Bill on filming police'. Print Edition | Subscribe