On November 24, Members of the National Assembly, the Lower House of France’s Parliament, backed the Global Security Bill (which translates as Comprehensive Security Bill) by a majority of 388 votes to 104, with 66 abstentions. According to the government, the legislation is aimed at preventing French and security officials from online calls for violence.
The most controversial part of the Global Security Bill is Article 24. Article 24 of the proposed security law criminalizes the publishing of images of police officers with the intent of causing harm. Anyone found guilty could be sentenced to up to a year in jail, and fined 45,000 euros ($53,000). The bill also allows for greater powers for French police and the deployment of surveillance drones to ensure the law is upheld.
The new draft security law has sparked a fresh round of protests in France and dozens of rallies have taken place in the country.
Protesters were also angry about videos showing police violently breaking up a migrant camp Paris, and the beating of a Black music producer by police officers with video proof on security camera footage.
The opponents of the law and in particular of the part that criminalizes the publishing of images of police, argue that recording the action of police officers is imperative to curb the misuse of authority. Moreover, the concern is also on account of ambiguous nature of the proposal and how the courts will determine whether the images of police were posted online with an intention to harm or otherwise.
In response to these concerns and criticisms, French Prime Minister Jean Castex has stated that the measure would be amended to specify that it “won’t impede the freedom of information” and that it will focus only on images broadcast with “clear” intent to harm a police officer.
Apart from the journalists and advocates of rights groups, the European Commission and the United Nations have criticised the draft legislation. The European Commission spokesperson for Rule of Law, Christian Wigand, warned that journalists must be allowed to do their job without being penalized.
“The commission does not comment on draft laws, but it goes without saying that in a period of crisis it is more important than ever that journalists must be able to do their jobs freely and in complete safety. As is always the case, the commission reserves the right to examine the final legislation in order to verify that it conforms to EU law”.
On December 1, lawmakers from President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party said they would propose a “complete rewrite” of part of a draft law that would restrict the filming of police. “This is neither a withdrawal nor a suspension, it is a complete rewrite,” said Christophe Castaner, head of Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche group in the National Assembly.
On December 3, five independent United Nations human rights experts criticised the new French security law. “It is a good sign that members of the Parliament have said they will rewrite Article 24 restricting the publication of images of police officers, but it needs to go further and rethink the purpose of the bill as a whole,” the experts said.
While welcoming the establishment of a Commission led by the President of the National Human Rights Commission to formulate recommendations to Article 24, they urged the authorities to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the compatibility of the whole bill with international law.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has also criticised the bill. “The law has to be discussed by the French people,” Bachelet told a news conference in Geneva on December 9. “But it’s the Article 24, the one we are really concerned about. And that’s why we are mentioning that should be reviewed and should be, I guess, withdraw”. The French Senate will vote on the Global Security bill in January 2021.
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