Thousands Protest Against French Bill To Curb Identification Of Police

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PARIS: Several thousand people demonstrated in Paris on Saturday against a bill that would criminalize the dissemination of an image of the face of a police officer with the intention of harming him.

Supporters say police officers and their families need protection from harassment, both online and in person when off duty.

Opponents say the law would infringe journalists’ freedom to report and make it more difficult to hold police accountable for abuses such as excessive use of force – a growing public concern. The offense would carry a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($ 53,000).

On the Place du Trocadéro, in the west of Paris, human rights activists, trade unionists and journalists chanted: “Everyone wants to film the police!” and “Freedom!”, as police in riot gear stood around the square.

Many of the protesters wore the high-visibility jackets of the “Yellow Vest” movement which sparked a wave of anti-government protests two years ago.

Some carried signs that read “We will put down our (smart) phones when you lay down your weapons”.

Similar events were planned in Marseille, Lille, Montpellier, Rennes, Saint-Étienne and Nice.

In Paris, the police clashed with demonstrators at the end of the demonstration. At 7.45 p.m., 23 people had been arrested and a slightly injured policeman, tweeted the police headquarters.

Edwy Plenel, editor of the investigative news site Mediapart, said the bill was “a green light for the worst elements of the police”.

“Leaders are increasingly trying to prevent citizens, journalists and whistleblowers from revealing state failures. When that happens, democracy disappears, ”he added.

Last Tuesday, two journalists were arrested during a protest that led to clashes with police as lawmakers in the National Assembly began debating the bill, backed by President Emmanuel Macron’s party and his parliamentary allies.

The bill passed first reading on Friday and there will be a second reading on Tuesday. It is then sent back to the Senate for further debate before becoming law.

A government drafted amendment approved on Friday amended the relevant article, 24, to add the phrase “without prejudice to the right to inform”.

Prime Minister Jean Castex declared that this “would remove any ambiguity on the intention to guarantee respect for public freedoms while better protecting those, police and gendarmes, who ensure the protection of the population”.

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