Rights groups and press freedom defenders protest against French security law

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Thousands of people took to the streets in Paris and other French cities on Saturday at the urging of civil liberties activists and journalist groups to protest a security bill they say infringes on freedom of information and media rights.

Legislation pending in the French parliament would create a new criminal offense for posting images of police officers with the intent to harm them. Violators would face a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($ 53,000).

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The government says the proposal is intended to protect police officers from calls to violence online. Critics fear that, if passed, the measure would endanger journalists and other observers who take videos of officers at work, especially during violent protests.

In Paris, several thousand demonstrators gathered on the Place du Trocadéro near the Eiffel Tower, chanting “Liberty, freedom” and “Everyone wants to film the police”.

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Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International France, the League for Human Rights, journalists’ unions and other groups encouraged people to participate in the protest. The crowd included many journalists and students.

“We are not here to defend a privilege of our profession, the freedom of the press and the freedom of journalists,” said Edwy Plenel, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the investigation site Mediapart. “We are here to defend fundamental rights, the rights of all.”

Some members of the anti-government movement of yellow vests also joined the demonstration.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the French Ombudsman for Human Rights have also expressed concerns that the new provision could infringe on fundamental rights.

Responding to criticism, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday the measure would be amended to clarify that it “will not hinder freedom of information” and that it will only focus on images released with “clear intent” “to harm a police. officer.

Emmanuel Poupard, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists (SNJ), said on Saturday that he thinks the new amendment “does not change anything”.

The law on the image of the police “has only one objective: to reinforce the feeling of impunity of the police officers and to make invisible police brutality”, he declared.

Protesters argue that registration officers in action are essential to being able to condemn and curb the actions of violent officers. They are also concerned about how the courts would determine whether the footage was posted with intent to cause harm.

In July, three French police officers were charged with manslaughter for the death of a delivery man, Cédric Chouviat, whom passers-by filmed. Chouviat’s death had similarities to the murder of George Floyd in the US state of Minneapolis, which sparked outrage around the world and a series of Black Lives Matter protests in France.

The bill is defended by lawmakers from President Emmanuel Macron’s party, which has a majority in the National Assembly.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill on Tuesday, which also includes other security measures. He will then go to the Senate.

(TBEN)

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