A “Global Security Bill” that is on its way to becoming law in France has incited a new wave of militant protests across the country. Article 24 of the bill would make it a criminal offense to publish an identifying photograph or video of a police officer “with the intent to cause them harm, physically or mentally.” The bill would simultaneously expand the rights of the state to film French residents by drone and bodycam without their consent.
Breaking this law could land you a fine for 45,000-euro ($53,360) and up to a year in prison.
Thousands of members of the French working class including labor unions, socialist organizations, human rights and journalism groups, Extinction Rebellion and members of the Yellow Vest movement have taken the streets in cities and towns across the county over the past weeks, chanting anti-capitalist slogans in protest of the “security” bill. Peaceful protests over the weekend were brutally repressed by police who beat the demonstrators and used tear gas to incite riots.
The French government has already partially conceded by pledging to rewrite Article 24 in a way that will appease both supporters and opponents of the bill. But protesters do not trust this pledge. Some are demanding that Article 24 be removed while others are demanding the bill be stopped entirely.
The bill’s defenders claim that the law is vital to protect the police from attack. This reasoning is a false flag that blames the people, not the police and the repressive ruling class they serve, for the series of protests that have shaken France since 2018.
Much like in the United States, even when French police are filmed committing violent crimes, they rarely are prosecuted or convicted. Four French police officers have recently been charged for the beating of Black music producer Michel Zecler, who believes that if there was no viral video of his attack and arrest, he would still be in jail. Many are comparing the national response to this attack in France to the wave of protests that surged in the United States after the murder of George Floyd.
Police followed Zecler into his recording studio for not wearing a mask, and severely beat him while calling him racial slurs. After, they claimed he had dragged all four of them into his studio and reached for their weapons — all proven blatantly false by the video that went viral two days after his arrest.
Under the new security bill, could the sharing of this video be considered “intent to cause [police] harm, physically or mentally?”
Not everyone in France who is brutalized by police is an already well-known music producer and not every act of police terror is caught on camera. It is also illegal in France to collect data on race, so there is no information about how often the police commit racially motivated attacks such as what happened to Zecler.
In a recent Amnesty International report it was revealed that more than 40,000 people in France were convicted in 2018 and 2019 under vague laws that criminalized “contempt of a public official.” Many were protesters who had criticised President Emmanuel Macron and his neoliberal administration.
In late November, President Macron pressured Muslim leaders to create a “charter of Republican values” with a deadline of two weeks. The charter would have to prohibit “foreign interference” in mosques and declare that “Islam is a religion and not a political movement.”
What happens if someone refuses to agree? Macron issued an open-ended threat: “If some do not sign this charter, we will draw the consequences from that.”
Another radical bill that targets Muslims could lead to the fining and jailing of parents who refuse or fail to allow their children to be assigned national identification numbers, among a number of other alarming measures. A draft of the law will be considered by French cabinet on Dec. 9.
Knowing all this, it is easy to see why there is monumental distrust of the French government. Cecile Coudriou, president of Amnesty International France, addressed the “security” bill, saying, “On one hand, citizens are asked to accept the possibility of being filmed under the pretext that they have nothing to fear if they have done nothing wrong. And at the same time the police refuse to be filmed, which is a right in every democracy in the world.”
The vague language in all of these bills and charters means that they would not only be used to repress in the obvious ways they suggest, but could also be interpreted to penalize protesters and Muslims in ways we have yet to imagine. For all these reasons and more, removing the right to record the police would be a devastating blow against the French working class and would set a terrifying precedent for the rest of the world.
Feature image: “No filming except for the police;” “More social protection, less global security;” multinational protesters. Liberation graphic.