France’s National Assembly gathered Wednesday in the second day of debate on a bill that seeks to alter the direction of national security policy.
The bill, dubbed The Fauverge Law after one of its authors, former officer Jean-Michel Fauverge, was drafted with co-authors Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin and MP Alice Thourot, a member of Macron’s home party, La Republique En Marche (LREM), the group behind the bill.
According to reporting by French public radio service RFI, the bill is highly detailed, with legislation comprising 1,300 amendments that offer new and stronger measures to police units throughout the country’s many towns, cities, and regions for running their units.
But objections have arisen over one element at the heart of the bill: a ban on the filming and/or capture of images of law enforcement officers in the line of duty.
The outcry has come from numerous media professionals, unions, journalists, and even human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace who see facets of the bill as harming not only freedom of expression on a personal and professional level but those on a much broader one, which even extend to the freedom to protest.
Demonstrators came out Tuesday evening in Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lyon, Grenoble, and Rennes to voice their anger. In the crowd were the labor union French Democratic Confederation of Labor and press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), among others.
The three-hour protest was put down by police who utilized teargas and water cannons on the crowd near the National Assembly. Demonstrators had become unruly, attacking the police.
Article 24 of the proposed law — which was included over the insistence of police unions — argues for “protecting those who protect us” and would prohibit publication of images of police or other law enforcement forces on the job. It prohibits them from being clearly identified for what has been called “malicious purposes”.
In a statement on their website, RSF asked for a strong reconsideration of the amendment.
“We are launching a solemn appeal to the parliamentary majority, in particular to the deputies of En Marche, to reject this provision as it is and to clearly reaffirm that it should not be prohibited in France to disseminate images of the police in action, except in extremely limited cases.”
Those seeking to pass the bill include not only LREM and the interior minister but the parliamentary group Agir, whose president Olivier Becht said in a statement to the RFI that he was behind the legislation.
“I’m all for expanding the powers of the police forces. They must be armed after being trained of course, in order to face all kinds of situations.”
Journalists counter that including the provision would hinder their ability to practice their profession, especially when it comes to documenting police brutality. France has had numerous incidents of police malfeasance in recent years, frustration over which reached its apex with Black Lives Matters protests over the summer.
RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire urged lawmakers to reject those provisions that are dangerous to press freedom, calling the bill one which “could considerably hamper the work of journalists and weaken their ability to inform our fellow citizens about the behavior of the police.”
RSF and other groups stress that should this bill pass, it would concede power to authorities to investigate a journalist’s communications and upon the uncovering of a remark deemed even slightly critical, provide proof of intention to harm, and possibly justify a conviction.
Its passing would also include a €45,000 (nearly $53,400) fine and a one-year prison sentence.