By SJA Jafri + Agencies
PARIS: Thousands have taken to the streets against increase “White Terrorism”, discrimination, Islamophobia, anti-Islam, anti-Muslim and a new French law that would restrict sharing images of police, only days after the country was shaken by footage showing officers beating and racially abusing a Black man.
The demonstrations against the security law took place nationwide on Saturday with the central Place de la Republique in Paris filled to the seams despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The case shocked France with celebrities and politicians alike condemning the officers’ actions, and has brought the debate over President Emmanuel Macron’s law to boiling point.
One of the most controversial elements of the new law is Article 24, which would criminalize the publication of images of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity”.
It was passed by the National Assembly last week although it is awaiting Senate approval – provoking rallies and protests across France.
Protesters are calling for the article to be withdrawn, claiming that it contradicts “the fundamental public freedoms of our Republic”.
An investigation has been opened against the four police involved but commentators say that the images – first published by the Loopsider news site – may never have been made public if the contentious Article 24 of the security legislation was made law.
“This bill aims to undermine the freedom of the press, the freedom to inform and be informed, the freedom of expression,” one of Saturday’s protest organisers said.
“Police everywhere, justice nowhere”, “police state” and “smile while you are beaten” were among the slogans brandished by protesters in the crammed Paris square.
The Paris authorities had demanded that organizers limit the rally to a single location, but on Friday evening officials authorized a march from Place de la Republique to the nearby Place de la Bastille.
In a sign that the government could be preparing to backtrack, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Friday he would appoint a commission to redraft Article 24 but he was forced into a U-turn even on this proposal after parliament speaker Richard Ferrand – a close Macron ally – accused the premier of trying to usurp the role of parliament.
Under the article, offenders could be sentenced to up to a year in jail, and fined 45,000 Euros ($53,000) for sharing images of police officers.
The government says the provision is intended to protect officers from doxxing and online abuse, but critics say it is further evidence of the Macron administration’s slide to the right but media unions say it could give police a green light to prevent journalists – and social media users – from documenting abuses.
They point to the case of music producer Michel Zecler, whose racial abuse and beating at the hands of police were recorded by CCTV and later published online, provoking widespread criticism of the officers’ actions.
In another instance, journalists on the ground at a French migrant camp witnessed and recorded police brutality on Monday as the Paris area was cleared.
In a letter seen by the AFP news agency, Paris police chief Didier Lallement wrote to officers ahead of Saturday’s demonstration that “in the coming days, the coming weeks there’s no doubt you will face difficulty, doubt, even anger and fear” but he insisted he could “count on the integrity, sense of honour and ethics” among the force.
Protests over police brutality have already taken place elsewhere in the country.
In western city of Nantes, police said about 3,500 rallied, while organizers put the crowd at 6,000-7,000.
City officials in southern Montpellier said 3,800 people were demonstrating Saturday, more than double the number who attended a march a week ago, while organizers said there were 5,000 people.
“I’m just waiting for the law to be withdrawn,” said Adele Lequertier, a 22-year-old sociology student, who took part in the Montpellier march.