There is plenty of hurried backpedaling in the hope of putting out the fire that the controversial Article 24 of the “global security” law has started, after the major “Marches for Freedom” on Saturday, which were attended by 500,000 people throughout France (although the government claims only 130,000).
There will be “a complete rewriting of Article 24,” said Christophe Castaner, president of the La République en Marche (REM) group in the Assemblée Nationale and former Minister of the Interior.
Article 24 punishes with up to one year in jail and a €45,000 fine anyone who records a police officer in action with the “manifest” intention of harming them from a “physical or psychological” point of view, and de facto opens the way for the censorship of information, since all the police violence scandals in recent days have been revealed thanks to video recordings.
“We know that doubts still persist,” Castaner added, and we must “resolve them, because when such a misunderstanding doesn’t stop intensifying on such a fundamental subject, we have a duty to collectively question ourselves,” he explained, with contorted expressions that revealed great embarrassment. “We have never intended to create controversy about the right to information. Let’s rewrite the article to remove the doubts,” he said, conciliatory after a meeting at the Elysée, attended by the presidents of the parliamentary groups of the majority (REM, MoDem, AGIR), with the presence of the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, and the Ministers of Interior and Justice, Gérald Darmanin and Eric Dupont-Moretti.
The discussion about “rewriting” already began Sunday night at Matignon, the headquarters of the Prime Minister. Castaner spoke of a misunderstanding of the law, but the demonstrations and protests, by journalists, lawyers, NGOs and many thousands of citizens, together with the objections expressed even by the UN and the EU, are calling for its withdrawal pure and simple.
And not only regarding article 24, but also other parts of what was given the Orwellian name of a “global security law”: for instance, Articles 21 and 22, which, according to the law’s many critics, are preparing the ground for “mass surveillance” through the use of drones during demonstrations, a harbinger of “facial recognition.” Castaner stressed that “as legislators, we must be the guarantors of fundamental freedoms and rights, and in the first place, obviously, the freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”
Castaner’s statements, coming after the intervention by Emmanuel Macron—who, faced with the images of police officers beating the music producer Michel Zecler, said that they were “shameful”—are highlighting a strong malaise felt among the majority. The deputies approved the “global security” law on the first reading, but there was a dissident faction among the majority (30 abstentions, 10 votes against). Article 24 was requested by the Minister of Interior, Gérald Darmanin, a former Sarkozy acolyte. On Sunday, late in the afternoon, Darmanin was questioned before the Judicial Commission of the Assemblée regarding police violence. The minister defended the police, while condemning those who resorted to “disproportionate violence.” According to the minister, speaking in a TV interview a few days ago, the beating of Zecler was just “a fuck-up” by the 4 policemen involved, who were indicted on Monday, with two held in preventive custody.
The left-wing opposition is denouncing the systemic violence and asking for the resignation of the Prefect of Police of Paris, Didier Lallement. Darmanin has admitted that “seven deadly sins” are present in the management and organization of the police, from poor training to the limitations of vehicles, including faults in the hierarchical management. Macron has asked the government to put forward quick proposals to re-establish a peaceful relationship between citizens and law enforcement. One of the main demands of the left is now on the table: the radical reform of the IGPN, the “police of the police,” an internal administration body that judges the crimes committed by police officers. The argument is that it should be replaced by an independent body. On Monday, the union of police commissioners called for the introduction of video cameras at human height on the uniforms of police officers, in order to be able to fight “the battle of images.”
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