28.11.2020 Europe

Dozens of protests planned across France against security law and police violence

© RFI / Romain Philips
LISTEN NOV 28, 2020
© RFI / Romain Philips

Around 100 demonstrations are to take place across France on Saturday against a new security law that would restrict publishing images of police, just days after video footage emerged of police savagely beating and racially abusing a black man.

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the images as "unacceptable", saying the beating of music producer Michel Zecler "shames us". He asked the government to quickly come up with proposals to "fight discrimination". 

The case has shocked France with celebrities and politicians denouncing the officers' actions. Earlier in the week, police violently evacuated a migrant camp in central Paris.

The two incidents are the latest in a spate of high-profile cases of alleged police violence that have brought debate over Macron's new security law to boiling point.

Article 24

One of the most contentious parts of the bill is Article 24, which would criminalise the publication of images of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their "physical or psychological integrity".

It was passed by the National Assembly last week -- although it is awaiting Senate approval -- provoking rallies and protests across France.

Rally organisers are calling for the article to be withdrawn, claiming that it contradicts "the fundamental public freedoms of our Republic".

"This bill aims to undermine the freedom of the press, the freedom to inform and be informed, the freedom of expression," one of Saturday's protest organisers said.

Unions, Yellow Vests to join protest 

Trade unions are expected to join the demonstrations, with members of the yellow vests -- whose sometimes violent protests in 2018 and 2019 shook the country -- also expected. 

In Paris, the authorities had demanded that organisers limit the rally to a single location, but on Friday evening officials authorised a march.

And in a sign that the government could be preparing to backtrack, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Friday that he would appoint a commission to redraft Article 24.

Under the article, offenders could be sentenced to up to a year in jail, and fined 45,000 euros ($53,000) for sharing images of police officers.

The government says the provision is intended to protect officers from doxxing and online abuse, but critics say it is further evidence of the Macron administration's slide to the right.

'Green light' for abuse

But media unions say it could give police a green light to prevent journalists -- and social media users -- from documenting abuses.

They point to the case of music producer Michel Zecler, whose racial abuse and beating at the hands of police was recorded by CCTV and later published online, provoking widespread criticism of the officers' actions.

In another instance, journalists on the ground at a French migrant camp witnessed and recorded police brutality on Monday as the Paris area was cleared.

In a letter seen by AFP, Paris police chief Didier Lallement wrote to officers ahead of Saturday's demonstration that "in the coming days, the coming weeks... there's no doubt you will face difficulty, doubt, even anger and fear".

But he insisted that he could "count on the integrity, sense of honour and ethics" among the force.

Protests over police brutality have already taken place elsewhere in country.

In the southern city of Toulouse demonstrators took to the streets on Friday evening brandishing placards with slogans like "police everywhere, justice nowhere".

In western Nantes police said around 3,500 rallied, while organisers put the crowd at 6,000-7,000. 

(with AFP)

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