French lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill that critics feel could make it harder for journalists and human rights advocates to push for the accountability of the police. The Global Security Bill’s most controversial section – Article 24 – approved by legislators Friday, prohibits the publication of images that identifying a law enforcement officer “with the intent to cause them harm, physically or mentally.”
The bill which has prompted stark criticism and invoked protests was amended by the government, lawmakers say to ensure the freedom of the press. Now that the bill has been passed National Assembly, it will be move to Senate for approval in December. In a statement before Tuesday’s vote, PM Jean Castex office said the new bill should not “prejudice the legitimate interest of the public to be informed.”
However, the amendment was not enough for Claire Hedon, a veteran journalist made earlier this year as France’s Defender of Human Rights. Speaking on French television after the passing of Article 24, Hedon called the amendment a step in the right direction but maintained that “in our legislative arsenal, there already exists the possibility to punish anyone who uses, in an ill-intentioned way, the videos that they publish.”
On Saturday, more public demonstrations erupted in France against the bill with an estimated 22,000 people taking part in marches. The protesters in Paris represented media along with some gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protesters and members of Extinction Rebellion.
A Worrying message to send
Overall, the Global Security Bill would enhance the ability of the law enforcement to film ordinary citizens without their consent through police bodycams and drones while forbidding the publication of photos or videos of police officers’ faces.
Amnesty International has warned that if the bill is turned into a law without amendments, France – among the flagbearers of modern democracy – will lose its political identity enshrined in the ideology of universal human rights.
“If people cannot film anything in the streets when the police may sometimes have an illegal use of force it’s a very worrying message to send,” according to Cecile Coudriou, president of Amnesty International France.
“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 proponents of the controversial bill say it is necessary to protect security forces after they were singled out and bashed on social media during gilets jaunes protests of 2018 and 2019. They also say nothing in the bill put curbs on the journalistic freedom of the journalists to do their work, since prosecution would be linked with the evidence revealing “intent to cause harm”.
However, Reporters Without Borders didn’t agree with the provision and thinks it is vague and Draconian in nature. “Intent is a concept that is open to interpretation and hard to determine,” the organization said in a statement.
“Any photos or video showing identifiable police officers that are published or broadcast by critical media outlets or are accompanied by critical comments could find themselves being accused of seeking to harm these police officers,” the group said.
The bill in French parliament is floated by two lawmakers who are part of President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche party. One of them, Jean-Michel Fauvergue, the former chief of police’s anti-terrorism unit, informed parliament this week: “Article 24 aims to ban their exposure and their harassment on social networks, by malicious and dangerous individuals. No worries: Journalists will still be able to do their job.”
Alice Thourot, the other parliamentarian behind the bill, told CNN: “The broadcasting and capturing of images, whether with a camera or by citizens on a phone, of policemen doing their job with their faces exposed will be still be possible. What will change is that any calls for violence or incitement of hatred that accompany such pictures will be sanctioned by the law.”
It is feared that the bill will instill a fear in the masses trying to capture police brutality through their phones and cameras. Amnesty International has showed a lot of videos after verification, exposing the police brutality could occur despite all the denials.