France Lawmakers Pass Contentious Bill Extending Police Powers

France Lawmakers Pass Contentious Bill Extending Police Powers

France Lawmakers Pass Contentious Bill Extending Police Powers

France Lawmakers Pass Contentious Bill Extending Police Powers

PARIS — The French Parliament passed a contentious security bill on Thursday that extends police powers, despite criticism from political opponents and civil rights activists who have vowed to challenge the legislation before France’s Constitutional Council.

Among other measures, the bill broadens the powers of municipal police forces, expands the police’s ability to use drones to monitor citizens in public and toughens sentences for people found guilty of assaulting officers. One of the most arduously debated measures criminalizes the act of helping identify officers with intent to harm them.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has argued that the bill provides a necessary boost to embattled police forces and protects them from increasingly violent protesters and malicious attempts to identify them or their families, off and online.

But critics — including the French journalist unions, civil liberties groups and the authorities’ own human rights ombudsman — say the legislation is too broad.

“In the hands of an authoritarian government, such a law would become a dangerous weapon of surveillance and repression of the population,” Cécile Coudriou, the head of Amnesty International France, said in a statement this week.

The bill garnered 75 votes in favor and 33 against in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of Parliament, where Mr. Macron’s party has a majority.

But it is expected to be examined in the coming weeks by the Constitutional Council, which reviews legislation to ensure it complies with the French Constitution and could strike down parts of the bill.

Opposition to the bill sparked large protests last fall and was fueled by several widely publicized instances of police brutality, especially the beating of a Black music producer in Paris that was caught on security camera in November.

While the protests put pressure on the government to rewrite a provision on sharing images of the police, it refused to heed calls from opponents to scrap the entire bill.

The sharing of images is not explicitly mentioned in the final version of the bill that was passed on Thursday. But in its Article 24, the bill criminalizes the act of helping to identify on-duty police officers with the “obvious intent” to physically or psychologically harm them. Offenders would face up to five years in prison and a 75,000 euro fine, about $89,800.

Gérald Darmanin, the Interior minister who championed the bill, told lawmakers on Thursday that it would be France’s “shame” if it failed to prevent people with malicious intent from publicly spreading identifying information or pictures of security forces.

“Police officers and gendarmes are children of the Republic, and they must be protected because they protect us every day,” Mr. Darmanin said.

To bolster his argument, Mr. Darmanin mentioned an incident in Seine-Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris, where pictures of local officers were taken from their social media accounts, printed, and then posted on buildings that the minister described as spots for drug dealing, calling it an act of intimidation.

“While some moralizers strive to dismantle the security bill and most notably Article 24, time and time again, the police are bearing the consequences,” the Unité SGP Police union said in a statement after the pictures were discovered.

Police unions have long-complained that officers are overburdened and under appreciated, and after years of facing deadly terrorist attacks, suppressing violent Yellow Vest protests and enforcing strict Covid-19 lockdowns, the unions have welcomed steps to protect officers.

But the bill also comes amid growing and increasingly tense debates on police brutality and racism in France, after several years of controversies over deadly or brutal police interventions.

Over the past few months, six nongovernmental organizations took rare legal steps to force an overhaul of the country’s policing, and Mr. Macron’s government has started an online platform to consult citizens on discrimination issues.

Opponents of the security bill say it lacks adequate safeguards, for instance against police drones infringing on people’s privacy. They also argue that the provision aimed at preventing the malicious identification of police officers is still too open to interpretation, and that it could stifle attempts to record or document police brutality, including by journalists.

Alexis Corbière, a lawmaker for the far-left France Unbowed party who opposed the bill, told the National Assembly on Thursday that the bill did nothing to “reforge the essential trust between citizens and their police.”

“It casts suspicion on the role of the police,” Mr. Corbière said. “It gives the impression that this vital public service cannot be subjected to any citizen criticism.”




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