PARIS – Thousands of people took to the streets in Paris and other French cities Saturday at the urging of civil liberties campaigners and journalist groups to protest a proposed security law they say would impinge on freedom of information and media rights.
Pending legislation in France's parliament would create a new criminal offense for publishing images of police officers with intent to cause them harm. Offenders would face a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison and a 45,000-euro ($53,000) fine.
The government says the proposal is intended to protect police officers from online calls for violence. Critics fear that, if enacted, the measure would endanger journalists and other observers who take videos of officers at work, especially during violent demonstrations.
In Paris, several thousand demonstrators gathered on the Trocadero square near the Eiffel Tower, chanting “Freedom, freedom” and “Everyone wants to film the police."
Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd as minor scuffles broke out at the end of the demonstration. Paris police said 23 people were detained and an officer was slightly injured.
Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International France, the Human Rights League, journalists’ unions and other groups encouraged people to attend the protest. The crowd included many journalists and students.
“We are not here to defend a privilege of our profession, press freedom and journalists' freedom," Edwy Plenel, co-founder and editor of investigative website Mediapart, said. "We are here to defend fundamental rights, the rights of all people.”
Some members of the anti-government yellow vest movement also joined the demonstration.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and France’s human rights ombudsman have also voiced concerns that the new provision could undermine fundamental rights.
In response to the criticism, Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday that the measure would be amended to specify that it "won’t impede the freedom of information” and that it will focus only on images broadcast with “clear” intent to harm a police officer.
Emmanuel Poupard, secretary general of the National Journalists Union (SNJ), said Saturday that he thinks the new amendment “doesn’t change anything.”
The police image law “has only one goal: to boost the sense of impunity of law enforcement officers and make invisible police brutality,” he said.
Protesters argue that recording officers in action is essential to being able to condemn and curb the actions of violent officers. They also worry how courts would determine whether images were posted with intent to harm.
In July, three French police officers were charged with manslaughter over the death of a delivery man, Cedric Chouviat, that bystanders caught on video. Chouviat's death had similarities with the killing of George Floyd in the U.S. state of Minneapolis, which sparked outrage around the world and a series of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in France.
The proposed law is championed by lawmakers from President Emmanuel Macron’s party, which has a majority in the National Assembly.
Lawmakers are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the bill, which also includes other security measures. It will then go to the Senate.