On Saturday 5th December, over 350 demonstrations took place all over France with every single person supporting the same goal: to repeal the ‘national security law’. According to the Ministry of the Interior, over 52,350 people were involved, including some 5,000 in Paris who struggled to have their voices heard. Six hundred meters in, the largely peaceful march degenerated when black-clad casseurs, also known as the ‘black bloc‘ played havoc with the demonstrations for the second consecutive week. Shop windows were smashed, vehicles burst into flames all the while rocks and Molotov cocktails hurled at the police, who replied with teargas and water cannons. The Minister of the Interior tweeted his support for police forces following these incidents.
A little context
Traditionally targeting people of immigrant background, police brutality in France became a critical issue following the “yellow vest” movement. Those involved in this sporadic uprising which mainly took place between 2018 and 2019 often had little familiarity with police contact. The cases of Adama Traoré, Steve Maia Caniço, Cédric Chouviat and the beating of music producer Michel Zecler by police forces on the 21st of November in the 17th district of Paris were the spark that ignited a fire and brought this matter to the forefront of the political and societal debate as was observed in the US following the death of George Floyd. We are far from the national motto, ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’.
What is this law all about?
Proposed and passed to the national assembly on the 20th of October, the ‘national security law’ has been heavily critiqued. Article 24 of the bill is considered especially problematic and incompatible with human rights according to UN experts. The latter would modify the 1881 freedom of press bill, introducing up to one year of prison time and a fine of 45,000 euros for “disseminating, by whatever means and on whichever medium, with the aim of causing physical or psychological harm to their integrity, the image of the face or any other element of identification of an official of the national police or a member of the national gendarmerie when he or she is acting as part of a police operation.”
An infringement of freedom of expression
In democracies all around the world, freedom of expression is a core value. This includes the right for citizens to denounce reprehensible conduct, regardless of the perpetrator provided that their dignity or the secrecy of an investigation is not violated. According to UN rapporteurs, “video footage of police abuse captured by the public plays an essential role in the surveillance of public institutions, which is fundamental to apply the rule of law.”
On Wednesday 3rd December, the government announced that the Assembly’s Laws Committee will rewrite article 24 of the draft law within 15 days. Yet simply rewriting Article 24 will not solve its flaws, and this provision is certainly not the only one in the proposed legislation that infringes human rights.