Dozens of rallies are planned on Saturday against a proposed French law that critics say will undermine the media’s ability to scrutinise police behaviour, with the country shaken by footage showing officers beating and racially abusing a Black man.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday said images of police beating a Black music producer in Paris put “shame” on the country, with top politicians and sportsmen expressing outrage over the incident.
The case, coming on the heels of a violent evacuation of migrants in central Paris, has shocked the nation and galvanised opponents of the government’s controversial new security law.
One of the most disputed elements of the proposed law 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 protests and drawing condemnation from media organisations 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Rally organisers are calling for the article to be withdrawn, claiming that it contradicts “the fundamental public freedoms of our Republic”.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.
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, government officials had ordered that organisers limit the rally to a single location, but the order was quashed by judges who 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.
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.
‘Soiled the uniform of the Republic’
The incidents have increased pressure on Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and raised questions over the future of Paris police chief Didier Lallement.
In an interview with France 2 television on Thursday, Darmanin said the officers involved in Zecler’s beating “had soiled the uniform of the Republic”.
Macron has held talks with Darmanin to call for tough punishments for those involved in the beating, a government source said.
Protests over police brutality have already taken place elsewhere in the country ahead of Saturday.
Demonstrators took to the streets of Toulouse on Friday evening brandishing placards with slogans like “police everywhere, justice nowhere”. In Nantes, police said around 3,500 rallied, while organisers put the crowd at 6,000-7,000.
The condemnation has spread on social media sites following Zecler’s beating, with top footballers such as Kylian Mbappé joining his French national teammates and other athletes in calling for an end to racism.
“Unbearable video, unacceptable violence,” Mbappé wrote on Twitter next to a picture of the injured producer, “Say no to racism.”
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) November 26, 2020
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)