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Why are people in France protesting?

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The controversy about France’s new security law

Paris has seen mass protests on its roads for the second weekend in a row after the introduction of a controversial security bill by its government in the parliament. The security bill seeks to provide greater powers and protections to the region’s police officers.

The weekly demonstrations are a major setback cause of concern for President Emmanuel Macron, especially when he is seeking to be re-elected in the France elections scheduled early 2022. The protests have witnessed incidences of violence, with protesters setting random vehicles on fire and smashing shop windows. On November 28, Saturday, more than  46,000 protestors assembled in the capital city to raise their voice against the controversial legislation being pushed by President Emmanuel Macron. It is being opposed by civil rights liberties groups, journalists and migrant activists along with the commoners.

What is the importance of the proposed law?

There are three articles of the bill which have caused controversy. They are concerned with enabling the police to organise ground and air mass surveillance, and restricting the filming of police officers.

The proposed “global security” law has Articles 21 and 22 that allow the police and the paramilitary forces or the gendarmes to use body cameras and drones to record the movements of the citizens, this recorded footage would be allowed to be live streamed to the command post.

Article 24 of the “global security” law penalises publishing “the image of the face or any other element of identification” of police or paramilitary official acting in “a police operation.” And if it is found that the dissemination is done with “the intent of harming the physical or mental integrity” of the official, the accused shall be liable to punishment amounting to imprisonment for up to 1 year, with a maximum fine of 45,000 euros.

Why are people so strongly condemning the new law?

The primary reason for the damnation of the bill as stated by those who opposed the new law is what they describe as the hardening of police response to protests. This has been felt by the natives in recent years, especially after the 2018’s Yellow Vest demonstrations.

Activists, Journalists and human rights groups have revealed their concern that Article 24 would make it more complicated and infeasible to cover public events. This is because they play a major role in recording instances such as those of police violence. All this, they claim, would ultimately make it more difficult to hold officers accountable for their wrongdoings. The wording of the proposed bill has also been chided for not being crystal clear and straight forward leaving an open end for the courts to interpret the term “intent of harming”.

Has anything like this happened before?

The law Critics have brought into highlight two instances where police excessed dominations within a span of just seven days at the end of November. These instances had grabbed national attention. Now, the chiders worry that such instances would be left unreported if the proposed law is put in place.

The first occurred on November 23. The French police were clearing a temporary migrant camp in central Paris when the officers used riot shields to shove people before using tear gas, and chasing migrants through side streets. All the developments have been recorded in a video footage. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo had called the incident “unacceptable.” One of the tough-speaking interior ministers of France, Gérald Darmanin, also called the videos “shocking” and the act heinous.

Video of another instance on November 26, surfaced on several mediums showing police officers beating a Black man behind closed doors. The situation prompted President Macron to say that images from the video “shame us”.

The fears arising from paste experiences like those mentioned above have made civil liberties groups and left-wing parties to call out at the bill claiming it to be authoritarian and unnecessary. They have also insisted that existing laws are sufficient to protect police officers.

What are the remarks of those who support the bill?

The France government headed by Emmanuel Macron has insisted that the new security bill has no intentions to target press freedoms, but is aimed at protecting police officers and their families from instances of harassment and online trolling when off duty.

The bill has received support from the country’s conservative parties along with Macron’s centrist La République en Marche (LaRem) party. This facilitated it to be easily passed on November 24 in the National Assembly which is France’s lower house of parliament. The French Senate which is dominated by conservatives is supposed to vote on the bill in January.

How is this whole matter going to affect the upcoming France elections?

Many analysts have also highlighted the rightward shift of the French electorate, especially after the recent terror attacks as well as the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in October. According to a Bloomberg report, a survey commissioned by the government found that 58 per cent of people are in favour of the implementation of the new security law.

It is also observed that in order to assure his re-election in 2022 President Macron has been increasingly trying to appeal to right-wing voters as against his earlier description of his politics as “neither right nor left”. He was also a part of the Socialist Party until 2009. This assumption is further supported by another proposed controversial legal measure, the so-called “anti-separatism” bill which aims to crack down on Islamic radicalism. It is expected to be introduced in the French Parliament in the month of December. It will deal with a range of measures including school education reforms and stricter controls on mosques and preachers. This is aimed to cater to various concerns among Muslims in France and ensuring that Muslim children do not drop out of school.

 

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