Security bill protests

French relaunch "freedom marches" to protest security law and police violence

A person holds a banner reading "Withdrawal of the Global Security Bill" on a demonstration in Paris against the "Global Security Bill''on 16 January, 2021.
A person holds a banner reading "Withdrawal of the Global Security Bill" on a demonstration in Paris against the "Global Security Bill''on 16 January, 2021. REUTERS - GONZALO FUENTES

Tens of thousands of protesters marched across France on Saturday to denonce a security bill which critics say would restrict the filming of police and posting images to social media, notably to document cases of police brutality. 75 people were arrested.


Thousands marched in Paris and cities across France, many of them angry about what they say was the "disproportionate" response by police when they broke up an illegal New Year's rave in Brittany that attracted some 2,400 people.

Estimates of the turnout varied widely between the authorities and the activists: while police put the total turnout across the country at 34,000, organisers insisted it was closer to 200,000.

In Paris and Lille, the marchers came out despite a rare snowfall, carrying banners with slogans such as "Police everywhere, justice nowhere", and "State of emergency, police state."

"It's a strange dictatorship, one asks how far they will go with this law," said one marcher in the northern city of Lille, who identified himself only by his first name François.

"If this is the case in the country of the rights of man and freedom, then I'm ashamed to be French!" he added.

Arrests and injuries

Police arrested 75 people across the country, 24 of them in Paris, said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, while 12 police officers and paramilitary officers were injured.

Police also intervened to break up an illegal rave near the Paris demonstration, Darmanin said in a tweet.

The second group said they were protesting in support of nightlife businesses such as clubs and bars which have lost their livelihoods since Covid restrictions came into place.

Police said the rally had not been declared and confiscated their sound equipment.

Footage of police beating up an unarmed black music producer in his Paris studio on November 21 has amplified anger over the legislation, condemned by many as signalling a rightward lurch by President Emmanuel Macron.

Other recent incidents caught on camera have shown Paris police using violence to tear down a migrant camp.

The protesters are also against the use of ramped-up surveillance tools like drones and pedestrian cameras.

Senate to consider bill in March

In the face of mounting protests, Macron's ruling LREM party has announced it will rewrite the bill's controversial Article 24 that deals with filming the police.

But left-wing protesters and rights groups insist the law should be completely withdrawn.

The "marches for freedom" have been called by an umbrella grouping that includes Amnesty International and several unions, including those gathering journalists and film directors. 

The proposal, which has already been approved by the National Assembly, will be examined by the Senate, France's upper parliamentary chamber, in March.


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