Journalists, human rights groups protest new French security bill banning images of police

Nov. 18, 2020

French lawmakers on Tuesday began debating a bill that could ban dissemination of images of police officers’ faces, triggering protests in Paris and other French cities against the potential loss of a check against abuses of power.

France‘s security forces have long faced accusations of using brutal tactics when dealing with protesters, but also when confronting or arresting individuals, in particular from black or Arab minorities.

And now, Macron’s centrist government has proposed a new “comprehensive security” law that would institute reforms such as giving more autonomy to local police — and potentially arming more of them — and expanding the use of surveillance drones in high-crime areas.

Under the law, which would apply to civilians and journalists alike, it would be a crime to show images of an officer’s face unless it has been blurred. Publication on social media or elsewhere with the intent of undermining an officer’s “physical or psychological integrity” could be punished by a year in prison or fines of up to 45,000 euros ($53,000).

Journalists and rights groups oppose the measure and took to the streets as lawmakers began their debate, joined by Yellow Vest protesters and victims of police violence. Demonstrations took place in Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille and in other French cities.

In Paris, police fired water cannons and tear gas near the National Assembly, the parliament, when a number of young protesters started damaging property toward the end of a rally that had been peaceful.

Journalists and rights activists say the stricter rules would effectively work as a “gag law” similar to a measure in force in Spain since 2015, that would hinder attempts to hold police accountable.

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