Dec 3rd, 2020, 06:04 PM

President Macron's MPs Controversial Security Bill Sent Back For Rewrites

By Lauren Nanes
"Stop the Global Security Law" banner at the Trocadero protest. Image Credit: Meredith Miller.
"Stop the Global Security Law" banner at the Trocadero protest. Image Credit: Meredith Miller
After a heavily debated bill passed in the lower house and provoked public outrage, lawmakers have been sent back to the drawing board to rewrite Article 24.

Just days after the lower house of parliament gave its approval to a contentious security law, the French government conceded to a total rewrite of Article 24 following a meeting at the Elysee Palace on Monday, November 30. The highly controversial provision, now to be redrafted, would have made illegal the broadcasting of images or video that identify security forces with the intent to cause physical or mental harm, punishable by one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. 

Officials say the new version of the article will be submitted at a later date, although it remains unclear when, as the bill is expected to be reviewed by the Senate in January.

The security law, intent on branding President Emmanuel Macron as the law and order candidate for the upcoming 2022 elections, has been met with enormous debate since its introduction in October. Opponents like Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of France Unbowed and member of the National Assembly, warn the bill is a step away from democracy. "The goal is now quite clear: an authoritarian regime is being set up. Its goal is to control everyone, everywhere, all the time," he said.

Maddie Czarnik, a 21-year-old Fashion Activism major at AUP, said the timing of the bill is "especially horrific. I don't know how they thought that they would be able to pass a bill like this and get away with it. One of the only checks of power that citizens have right now is being able to have video and audio recording of those who are in power. To make a bill in order to protect the police, who are the ones brutalizing citizens, is almost comical to me," she said.

While many worry that the new provision will make it harder to expose police brutality and hold security forces accountable, advocates argue that the law is necessary to protect police from harassment and targeting on social media. Christophe Castaner, head of Macron's ruling party La Republique En Marche, said to BBC News, "We know that doubts persist about it. While we can never tolerate any reduction of press freedoms or images, Article 24 would not have affected in any way the spread of those images."

Cars on fire at the November 28 anti-security-law protest. Image Credit: Amy Thorpe.

Hollow promises to appease critics by adding minor modifications to the article have failed to quell opposition from lawmakers, journalists, humanitarian organizations and citizens alike. Online petitions drafted by national and international bodies expressing concern about the law's potential threat to privacy and free expression have accumulated over 90,000 signatories. Journalist unions calling on parliament to withdraw Article 24 from the bill have gathered support from over 30 major publications. Unrelenting protests and demonstrations, often turned violent, have swept the city of Paris.

The back-peddling on Macron's security law comes swiftly after a march at Place de la Republique that saw close to 50,000 participants on Saturday, November 28. Demonstrations against the bill erupted as banners read "Democracy under attack," accusing the French government of drifting towards repressive policies. The march soon turned into violent protest as it edged towards Bastille. Protesters launched flares, put up barricades and threw stones and fireworks while police forces deployed tear gas, water cannons and began clashing violently with demonstrators.  

Meredith Miller, a 21-year-old student studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at AUP, participated in Saturday's protest. "People were angry and there to make a difference. The things that they were throwing at the police were bigger and more dangerous. Police were gassing left and right and were using water cannons. It was very dramatic and stressful."

Demonstrator suffers from tear gas at the November 28 anti-security-law protest. Image Credit: Amy Thorpe.

Anger and distrust of law enforcement over recent cases of police violence fueled the November 28 rally. Syrian photographer, Ameer al Halbi, was one of many hurt while covering Saturday's protest.


It is thought he may have suffered a blow from a police baton. An official inquiry into al Halbi's injuries has been launched.

Now it seems the collective call of disapproval has been heard, but whether the move to rewrite the bill is legitimate or simply an appeasement tactic is, once again, up for debate. At a press conference, Interior Minister of France Gérald Darmanin said, "I made a promise it would no longer be possible to broadcast the image of the police and gendarmes on social media. That promise will be kept."

Besides its agreeability, the main issue with Article 24 that will likely be the focus of its rewrite is its difficulty of interpretation. Rights groups, including France's own human rights watchdog, have said that the clause is particularly problematic because it does not address who would decide if the intention was "to harm," fearing this vague provision could be open to abuse. Not redrafted, however, are Articles 21 and 22 of the bill authorizing security forces to film the public with body cameras and deploy drones to monitor public space, giving officers the right to publish their own footage of events.

If the bill goes forward, largely unchanged, it will not be only journalists who are affected. Wrongdoings, police brutality and even violence against security forces are largely made aware of by citizen activists whose smartphone footage broadcasted on social media often leads to public inquiries and real-time news coverage. Reluctance to fully drop Article 24 comes as Macron's government wishes to secure the support of dissatisfied security forces, a move that could cost Macron to lose the majority of his left-wing supporters.

Sent back to the drawing board, the provision remains to concern journalists and citizens that they will not only be dissuaded from recording events but will also be unable to hold public authority accountable for abuses of power. 

Public outcry over the proposed security law has divided the country, placing sentiments of police distrust into many and igniting confrontations between police and citizens over the past few weeks in Paris. Footage of police encounters turned violent have been used by opponents of the bill as prime examples of why the law is problematic. 

Clashes erupted as police were caught on video violently vacating a makeshift refugee camp at Place de la Republique on Monday, November 23.


500 tents in the center of Paris were forcefully removed, often with migrants still inside them, leaving individuals to fall to the ground. Many were targeted with tear gas, kicked by police officers and pummeled with batons. One video shows an officer deliberately tripping a man who was running away from police, causing him to badly fall.


Another, taken the following day at a subsequent protest, shows a police officer holding Remy Buisine, a reporter for Brut Officiel, on the ground, appearing to threaten him with a baton. 


Buisine told Le Monde he was attacked by the same officer "three times" throughout the night.

The public prosecutor's office has ordered two inquiries into the officers involved after complaints were filed.

While many officials like Darmanin, Castaner and Macron denounced such acts, the violent tactics used by security forces during recent protests are being held by citizens as evidence of how dangerous restrictions on broadcasting images can be. Campaigners fear that the law would lead to a sense of impunity among police, especially at protests that can quickly turn violent. 

Videos of security forces using excessive force have emboldened critics, leading many to believe the law would cover up police brutality and leave individuals void of evidence to make their cases. 

Footage of Paris Police beating a Black man in his music studio posted on November 26 added fuel to the fire and solidified public sentiment that the bill would only serve to cover up lawlessness. 


The alleged unprovoked attack on Michel Zecler showed police punching, kicking and using a baton on Zecler and later throwing tear gas at him in an enclosed room. Speaking to Paris reporters, Hafida El Ali, Zecler's lawyer, said he was "lucky to have these videos showing acts of police violence ... If we didn't have that, unfortunately, he would obviously be detained because it's his word against the word of police officers and we know perfectly well that it's the police officers that would win."

Four police officers have been charged in connection to the attack and two of the officers are being held in custody. Following the incident, Macron called on his government to make proposals in order to improve trust between the French and their police.

The security bill has put French police forces in the hot seat, but advocates for the bill and police unions remain certain that the provision in question is necessary for their protection. In an official statement, David-Olivier Revedi, member of the Police Union Alliance, said, "Today several of our colleagues are victims of harassment. They or their families are threatened. In certain low-income neighborhoods, you'd even find walls with the names of police officers saying that their daughter or their wife would be raped. It's completely unacceptable. The new law can protect and put a stop to this."

Yves Lefebvre, General Secretary of the Union SGP-Police-FO unit, in an opinion piece for La Croix said, "... We must understand that we are in a war of the image ... The problem is when a dozen people take out their cell phones to film a police intervention and it becomes systematic ... these are the situations we want to avoid."

While citizens do not doubt police suffer from harassment in their difficult line of work, most are not convinced that a law restricting the dissemination of videos identifying them online would solve the problem. Czarnik says, "I think most countries need to evaluate why police are being targeted in the first place. I think getting to the root of that issue would probably solve a lot more things than trying to take away someone's right to protect themselves and have evidence."

In a country that has seen a string of terrorist attacks and growing distrust between law enforcement and its citizens, tougher security measures are on the rise. The security bill has centered the issue of public security around the sacrifice of freedoms. Macron's political campaign to prioritize security over freedom has left many questioning whether the democratic values they were promised are eroding. The public discontent has been heard and now the dissenters wait to see if they will be listened to.