A draft bill travelling through the French parliament which would have made it illegal to film French police or military personnel acting with the police seems to have had some of its sting removed by its authors (President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling Republic on the Move – LaRem – party) following massive demonstrations throughout France of over 130,000 people, more than 46,000 in Paris alone during the last weekend of November.
Christophe Castaner, the leader of LaRem in the lower house of parliament, told a news conference: “We propose a new version of article 24 and a new version will be submitted.” He omitted to say exactly what that new version would contain, or even when it would appear, but following this assurance the draft bill, along with that singular ‘promise’, was approved by the lower house and sent to the upper house with its in-built conservative majority.
The original article 24 would have banned the distribution of “an image of the face or any other element identifying an officer of the national police or gendarmerie”, other than their individual serial number, when they are on official duty and where the “intention is to cause physical and psychological harm”. The ‘intention’ and the definition of what constitutes ‘harm’ would, of course, be left to the police to decide, and those found guilty of this proposed ‘crime’ would have found themselves liable to a punishment of one year in prison and a €45,000 (£40,000) fine.
Still contained within the new draft bill, along with whatever the replacement article 24 turns out to be, are articles 21 and 22, which assert the right of the police to use cameras at all times – whether on drones, their own bodies or static CCTV-style equipment – for live or recorded observation of the public.
It should be noted here that the use of drone-mounted cameras during the covid-19 epidemic to identify members of the public in the street was stopped by the courts. If the new bill becomes law, however, the police will be able to record identities using real-time facial recognition techniques during any public order operation without regard to any outside body and for whatever purposes they choose.
French workers are neither stupid nor easily cowed and we can expect the strong protest to continue unabated against the beefing up of police powers along with a substantial loss of people’s rights.
The French police have, through their own actions, achieved a high level of notoriety and distrust among workers of all ethnicities and political beliefs. While Macron and the ruling class he represents would prefer to hide as far as possible the truth about routine police brutality and those whose interests they really serve, many within the police service itself don’t seem to care who sees them as they really are.
When the footage of black music producer Michel Zecler being beaten by three police officers in his own studio in early November went public, Mr Macron was forced to brand the event “shameful” for France. Charges against four of those officers include using racist language and the violent use of weapons to cause intentional harm. Macron had to face the fact that, without that public showing of the attack, the assault would have gone unreported and unpunished (not that anyone has been punished yet).
There have within the last year or so been many similar examples of protesters losing lives, eyes and limbs at the hands of police who go into riot mode in the face of public protests. If those deaths and injuries had not been captured on the phone cameras of ordinary people, they would have remained largely hidden.
It is for this reason that some supporters of this bill within the French parliament have been trying to differentiate between those who carry a press card and those who don’t (this may well crop up again within the revamped article 24). At the moment, journalists and the four unions that represent them are resisting attempts to peel them away from the masses, as they know that many pressures can be brought to bear on journalists and press photographers within the media industry itself to suppress a story or picture.
These media unions have jointly stated in relation to the filmed police violence circulating on social media: “Whether they were filmed by journalists with or without a press card, citizens or human rights activists, the very videos exposing the violence committed by members of the security forces have indeed allowed the topic to appear in the democratic debate.”
This recognises that ordinary people using social media have few barriers to stop them sending their recordings into the public domain, from where journalists are able pick them up and use them.
It wasn’t just that hundreds of thousands of workers spoke out against this bill, although we believe their voices and actions carried the heaviest weight, but also the government’s own ‘independent’ ombudsman on human rights, Claire Hedon, said that article 24 was too vague, adding that it involved “significant risks of undermining fundamental rights”. She further stated: “The publication of images relating to police interventions is legitimate and necessary for a functioning democracy.”
French author and filmmaker David Dufresne, who has been pointing out police violence for decades, stated that his widely watched documentary based on a collection of amateur footage from yellow vest protests in 2019 would not have been possible if the French bill had been the law at the time, highlighting the danger still existing if the essence of the bill were to be preserved on the basis put forward by interior minister Gérald Darmanin – namely, that the measures should stand but “would not apply to journalists”.
Imperialist powers around the globe are eager to remove any restraints on those armed bodies of men who exercise power over the masses of their own country or others, and so they are just as eager to block any reports of violent excesses. It is to the credit of the French working class that they have always resisted the plans of the powerful in whatever way was necessary.
Long may they continue to do so, and may the working classes of other imperialist nations follow their example!