France drops controversial plan to ban filming of police after huge protests

Hundreds of thousands of people protest against proposed law

Kate Ng
Tuesday 01 December 2020 01:34 GMT
The aftermath of demonstrations in Paris over the weekend
The aftermath of demonstrations in Paris over the weekend (AFP via Getty Images)
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The French government has backtracked over plans that would have banned members of the public from sharing images of police officers after numerous protests over the weekend.

More than 130,000 people took to the streets to demonstrate against the draft bill and in favour of free speech on Saturday. Over 46,000 people protested in Paris.

French president Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party had pushed for a new security bill that would make it illegal to publish images of police officers with intent to cause them harm. Doing so would be punishable by a year in prison and a €45,000 (£40,200) fine.

It comes after footage of black music producer Michel Zecler being beaten by three police officers in his own studio earlier this month went public. Mr Macron branded the video “shameful” for France.

Four French police officers held in custody over the beating have been placed under formal investigation, Agence France Presse and France Info said on Monday.

Two officers would stay in custody, while the other two were placed under judicial control.

Charges against the officers would include the use of racist language and intentional violence with weapons, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz had said on Sunday.

The proposal of Article 24 - a key part of Mr Macron’s plans to appeal to right-wing voters by being tougher on law and order ahead of his 2022 re-election bid - had sparked outrage among activists, the media and the left of his own party.

Christopher Castaner, head of Mr Macron’s Republic on the Move (LaRem) party in the lower house of parliament, told a news conference on Monday: “We propose a new version of article 24 and a new version will be submitted.”

The government’s own independent ombudsman on human rights and French journalists said the article was too vague and could have a chilling effect on people wanting to expose police brutality.

Claire Hedon, the country’s human rights ombudsman, said it involved “significant risks of undermining fundamental rights”.

“Our democracy is hit when the population does not trust its police anymore,” she told the National Assembly.

Footage of Mr Zecler being violently arrested drew international criticism and made it even less tenable for Mr Macron to push forth Article 24, said French officials.

“We acknowledge that there are doubts, that some people consider that the right to inform is under threat… That is why it is necessary to clarify it,” said Mr Castaner.

His statement followed an emergency meeting on the bill at the Elysee palace earlier on Monday between Mr Macron and leaders of his parliamentary majority, as well as interior minister Gerald Darmanin, a former conservative.

The new version of Article 24 will be submitted at a later date, but it was unclear when. The bill was approved last week by the lower house but has now been sent to the upper house, where the conservatives have a majority.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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