France’s National Assembly is set to approve a new security law on Tuesday designed to strengthen the powers of the police and restrict the way in which images identifying individual police officers can be used online, on air and in print.
The “general security” law is the latest of several government edicts and pieces of legislation aimed at tackling crime and terrorism and introduced by President Emmanuel Macron in recent months.
French journalists and editors as well as leftwing and liberal politicians have been particularly incensed by Article 24 of the law, which will make it a crime punishable by a year in prison and a €45,000 fine to “publish, by any means and in any medium, the face or any other identifying feature” of a police officer or gendarme “with the aim of causing them physical or psychological harm”.
Demonstrators near the National Assembly in Paris last week said the real purpose was to stop the media from examining frequent incidents of police brutality.
Gérald Darmanin, Mr Macron’s interior minister, rejected that accusation, saying on Twitter that “a journalist or a citizen who films a police operation can of course continue to do so. But those who accompany their images with a call for violence while giving out the names and addresses of our police officers will no longer be able to do that”.
The government members of parliament proposing the new law have now modified Article 24 in response to the criticism, so that it allows the broadcast of a police officer’s individual police identity number.
The controversy over the draft law was highlighted by a confrontation between police and demonstrators in central Paris on Monday night, when police dismantled a camp of tents set up by migrants and activists to protest against lack of accommodation for the homeless.
Mr Darmanin conceded that “some images of the dismantling of the illegal migrant camp in the Place de la République are shocking” and ordered an investigation, while trade union leaders and leftwing opposition politicians said the clashes showed the value of filming police operations.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party said the parliamentary vote should be suspended following the “exceptional savagery” of the means used by the police to disperse the migrants.
While the new law is likely to boost Mr Macron’s popularity among many voters — Damien Abad said his centre-right Les Républicains group in the assembly would “very definitely” support the law — leftwingers accused Mr Macron of pandering to the far-right in his quest for re-election in the next presidential election in 2022.
“Emmanuel Macron presented himself as a bulwark against assaults on liberalism, but now he is leading the attack,” Socialist party leader Olivier Faure was quoted as saying by Le Monde. He added that Mr Macron’s “solitary and opaque governance, and his desire to undermine the balance of powers by weakening the parliament, the press and the social partners [trade unions and employers] amount to a very worrying wrong turn for democracy”.
The new draft law — reflecting decades of at times violent street battles between police and demonstrators in France, most recently during the anti-government “gilets jaunes” protests — also lays out rules for the use of police drones for filming from the air and restricts the sale of fireworks often used by demonstrators.
Another law due to go before the French parliament next month will be aimed at countering what Mr Macron labelled “Islamist separatism” in a speech on October 2, and enforcing French secularism and republican values in public life. Since the speech, a religious extremist beheaded in the street a secondary teacher who had shown his class caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson on freedom of speech, and a Tunisian citizen killed churchgoers in Nice.
This bill will also contain a clause to forbid the endangering of the lives of public servants by identifying them on social media. The Muslim father of a pupil taught by the slain teacher, Samuel Paty, had identified him on Facebook, and the killer claimed the attack with a gruesome photograph afterwards with a post on Twitter.
Under discussion is also a provision allowing the administration to track all pupils from the age of 3 — when schooling is mandatory in France — to make sure they do not drop out of the French education system, fulfilling Mr Macron’s aim of eliminating unregistered schools for Muslim children.
At present most pupils in state, private and registered religious schools already have an ID number for education, but the government says tens of thousands of children do not, partly because girls appear to be disproportionately kept out of registered schools by Muslim parents in some parts of the country.