Protests

French cities host anti global security law protests ahead of French Senate vote

A demonstration against the "Global Security Bill'', in Paris, France, January 16, 2021. The banner reads: "Withdrawal of the Global Security Bill".
A demonstration against the "Global Security Bill'', in Paris, France, January 16, 2021. The banner reads: "Withdrawal of the Global Security Bill". REUTERS - GONZALO FUENTES

Demonstrations have been taking place this Saturday in Lyon and other cities in protest over a global security law that has been tabled by the French government in a bid to protect the identity of police officials, but has been slammed by human rights groups and activists as infringing personal freedoms.

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According to Amnesty International, the bill “would restrict the ability of people to circulate images of police violence, and at the same time, extends the surveillance powers of police through the use of CCTV and drones.”

Several hundred demonstrators gathered to protest against the proposed law, at Lyon's Place Bellecour and featured several speeches by organisers and participants, but a planned concert was cancelled.

While the organisers of the "NO to the global security law" demonstration had promised musical events, the prefecture finally banned it.

Several speeches by journalists, lawyers, defenders of civil liberties, families of victims of police violence, however, remain on the program entitled “The Spring of Freedoms".

Other cities such as Montpellier also held rallies on Saturday.

A spokesperson for the environmental movement Alternatiba, who identified himself only as Charles said, "We are witnessing a real authoritarian drift by the government which is trying to muzzle any dispute, which is extremely worrying."

Today’s protest was held to reiterate opposition to the so-called "global security" law which will be debated in the French Senate as of this Tuesday, 16 March.

Opponents claim the law authorises the use of drones, video surveillance, and pedestrian cameras by the police, while conversely the law will restrict people filming the police during their operations, hence the legislation could prevent journalists from reporting on police violence.

According to Marco Perolini, Senior Europe Researcher for Amnesty International, “detaining people who are peacefully protesting against a law which would further trample over their rights is a move straight out of the ‘human rights violators’ playbook.

Fraught history

These dangerous practices pose a grave threat to the rights of people in France.”

Tens of thousands of people including journalists, activists and others have taken to the streets in France since November 2020 to oppose the Global Security Bill.

The government argues however that restrictions on images of police officers are necessary to protect both officers and their families from being targeted in online campaigns.

While “no police officer” will be able to prevent a citizen from filming a police operation, the interior minister Gérald Darmanin has made it clear that “publishing an officer’s face” and “commenting with intent to harm” could constitute an offence, punishable by a one year prison sentence and 45,000 euro fine.

But critics say video footage - some of which was shot by passers-by or CCTV and published on social media before the mainstream press reported on it - has allowed cases of police brutality to come to the fore, notably in the case of the brutal beating of black man Michel Zecler last November.

Separatism clause

The demonstrators are also opposed to a "separatism" clause that has been renamed as a "law confirming republican principles."

The anti-separatism aspect of the new bill is in direct response to the beheading of school teacher Samuel Paty by an islamist pupil who killed him for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as part of a civics class on freedom of speech.

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