PARIS: Thousands took to the streets across France on Saturday to demand that the government drop the notorious new protection bill, exacerbated by the beating and racist harassment of a black man by police officers who stunned the world.
Demonstrations against protection law—which will curtail the freedom of the press to transmit photographs of the identities of police officers—have taken place nationwide, with the central Place de la Republique in Paris seam-filled amid the coronavirus pandemic.
President Emmanuel Macron said late Friday that the photos of the black music artist Michel Zecler’s beating in Paris last weekend “shame us.” The event raised questions about perceived racial bias in the police department.
“Police everywhere, justice nowhere and “police state” and “smile while you are beaten” were among the slogans brandished by the demonstrators in the cramped Paris square.
The Paris authorities requested that the organisers restrict the rally to a single venue, but on Friday evening officials approved a march from Place de la Republique to the nearby Place de la Bastille.
There has been an inquiry against the four police involved, but critics claim that the images—first released by the Loopsider news site—may never have been made public if the controversial Article 24 of the protection law has been enacted.
The article will criminalise the publishing of photographs of on-duty police officers with a view to damaging their “physical or psychological integrity.” It was approved by the National Assembly, although it is pending the approval of the Senate.
Under the report, criminals may be sentenced to up to a year in prison and fined 45,000 euros ($53,000) for posting pictures of police officers.
Controversies over law and police brutality are turning into another crisis for the government as Macron faces the pandemic, its economic implications and a host of issues on the international level.
In an indication that the government could be planning to backtrack, Prime Minister Jean Castex declared that he would name a commission to recast Article 24.
But even on this plan, he was pushed into a U-turn after Speaker Richard Ferrand—a near Macron ally—accused the Prime Minister of attempting to usurp the position of Parliament.
The law says the rule is meant to shield officers from cyber harassment and has been intensely harassed by police officials. Yet media unions say they could give the police a green light to keep journalists—and social media users—from reporting abuses such as those against Zecler.
Critics also see the fall to the right of Macron, who came to power in 2017 as a potential centrist liberal change in France.
“Police violence left Emmanuel Macron in the face of a political crisis,” Le Monde said regularly.
The problem also placed pressure on Macron’s high-flying right-wing Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin—who was elevated to work this summer after being threatened by a rape probe—with Le Monde reporting that relations were rising between him and the Elysee.
Pictures of Zecler’s beating appeared days after the police were still under scrutiny as a result of the forced evacuation of a migrant camp in central Paris.