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Human rights groups and unions demand French government drop plans to make filming the police illegal

THOUSANDS of people took to the streets in Paris and other French cities at the weekend, urged by civil liberties campaigners and journalist groups to protest against a proposed security law they say would impinge on freedom of information and media rights.

Legislation currently passing through France’s parliament would create a new criminal offence of 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 (£40,000) fine.

The government says that 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 cannon to disperse the crowd as minor scuffles broke out at the end of the demonstration.

Paris police said that 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.

“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.”

The UN’s 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 last week 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 on 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 US, 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 on the Bill on Tuesday, which also includes other security measures. It will then go to the senate.

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