Although the French government gave a word to journalists and activists that the controversial Article 24 will be rewritten, many critics say a lot will depend on how it will be rewritten.
Earlier this month, tens of thousands of people were demonstrating in Paris against President Emmanuel Macron’s Global Security Bill. It ended with angry clashes that left dozens wounded, including a Syrian photographer who has worked for AFP.
The French government has recently been pressing ahead with its controversial security bill, which opponents say could undermine the media's ability to scrutinise police behaviour.
But Macron’s Party, La Republique En Marche (On the Move) has decided to drop the draft law, Article 24, that makes it a criminal offence to post images of police or soldiers on social media which are deemed to target them as individuals.
“We are going to propose a new complete rewrite of Article 24”, former Interior Minister and head of La Republique En Marche at the National Assembly said on Monday.
On December 9, UN Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, has called for the withdrawal of the draft law in France, known as Article 24 that compromises civil liberties and press freedom.
The President of the Senate, Gerard Larcher, a right-winger, said on Tuesday that it is the Upper House’s role to rewrite the law.
The question is who is going to rewrite this law and does it threaten press freedom in France?
Clement Lanot, a freelance video journalist based in Paris thinks Article 24 is “not so clear and it bothers us. What does a criminal video mean? I am not a criminal. I am working to inform people and not to harm a policeman. But if an officer comes in front of my camera, we will recognise his eyes and face, he will say it will ham me and I will file a claim against that journalist.”
Many people on the left and journalists in France had called for Article 24 to be withdrawn, which has prompted rallies and intensified political debates and heated tensions. Human rights groups and media organisations also said the law would allow police violence to go unaccounted for.
Clement Lanot is prudent on the fact that Article 24 has been suspended. “We will have to wait and see in the next few days and weeks. It depends how it will be rewritten. If the government replaces it by something else that is still not clear there will be problems. For the time being we do not have a lot of information so we will have to wait and see how things change."
Hamid Chriet, a freelance Political Consultant thinks that the “Global Security Bill should be suspended in its entirety and not just Article 24. It goes against the values and principles of Equality, Liberty and Fraternity like the Separatism Law. It does not give the same rights to all citizens
Since 2016 during the Labour Law demonstrations but especially the Yellow Vests Movement in France, there have been violent clashes between protestors and riot police.
Clement Lanot says “Protests in France have always been tense especially since 2016 where we have a Black Bloc and it creates tensions so police use of force is not recent but it has become even more violent with the Gilets Jaunes. I don’t know if there is a lot of violence but there is a lot of contact. So it has changed things and it is impressive today. The police were stretched and these demonstrations weren’t authorised.
For Hamid Chriet, the Yellow Vests crisis showed police brutality in the international world. “We can compare the Gilets Jaunes with the social anger in the suburbs in 2005.”
Trusting the police again
Emmanuel Macron would like his ministers to come up with suggestions on how to find a bond of trust between the police and the population.
Two years after the start of the Yellow Vests protests, the government can’t afford to waste time on the issue of police brutality. It is now a sensitive topic that is recurring in the news.
According to Clement Lanot, “there are a lot of citizens who don’t like the police. If you see the videos where there is a lot of police violence, people do not trust the police. One solution to establish a bond between the police and the population is that officers should wear on their uniform an 8 digit number called an RIO so people can identify them. I have that idea but I don’t think it will work.”
Michel Zecler, a music producer and the director of Black Gold Corp Studios was physically attacked by three policemen on November 21st in Paris. The officers accused him of intending to “take their weapons” and of “rebellion.”
Clement Lanot says “This came at a bad time for the French government. Article 24 says clearly that we can’t film the police in action and with the Zecler case there is police brutality where the images were decisive and the producer would have been in prison without the images. This contradicts the law and gives a bad image of the police with the demonstration that happened at Republique when the police evacuated a migrant camp. There could be demonstrations in the future. It is too early. On the one hand the population is angry and on the other hand police are also angry because this law protects them.”
For Hamid Chriet, inequalities in France are deepening with the COVID-19 pandemic and 10 million people are unemployed.
With Macron’s Minister of Interior, Gerald Darmanin, a former ally of Sarkozy, these measures are coming from a right-wing electorate.
Emmanuel Macron claims his ideas come from the left and right but with 17 months to go before the next presidential elections in 2022 and no party has found a candidate yet, it is clear that he wants to attract right-wing voters.
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