Tens of thousands protest against new French security bill


Tens of thousands of protesters turned out in dozens of French cities on Saturday to oppose a security bill they say will restrict the filming and publicising of images of police brutality.

Demonstrators also protested against the restrictions imposed to halt the spread of coronavirus and to stand up for the cultural sector, which has been especially hard-hit by the measures.

Those joining the demonstrations included activists from the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement that gripped France for more than a year before the pandemic restricted large-scale protests.

Among the protesters were young people calling for the right to hold rave parties, such as one in Brittany that attracted 2,400 people at the start of the year.

“I have two reasons for coming today – the comprehensive security law and also to support culture,” said Kim, a 24-year-old civil service intern.

“Lots of stores are open, the Metro is packed, yet cultural sites are closed, even though we can apply protective measures [against coronavirus],” she said.

The demonstrators are protesting against draft legislation that would ban the filming of police activities, which the ruling La République En Marche party of Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, has said it would rewrite.

But people are also protesting against the use of surveillance tools such as drones and pedestrian cameras.

Footage of white police beating a black music producer in his Paris studio on 21 November has fuelled anger over the legislation, condemned by many as signalling a swing to the right by Macron.

According to interior ministry figures, 32,077 people turned out to protest across France, significantly down on the 133,000 they said attended the largest protest against the measures, back in November – although organisers put the true turnout then at more than half a million people.

Organisers put the fall in numbers down to the coronavirus restrictions, poor weather and the fact that this was just the latest in a long series of such protests.

France has recorded 75,000 deaths from coronavirus since the outbreak began and the country is bracing for another possible lockdown.

In Paris, the large Place de la République was half full, AFP journalists reported, while about 3,000 people gathered in Montpellier, southern France.

At about 5pm, an hour before the start of the overnight 6pm to 6am curfew now in place as a measure against coronavirus, clashes broke out between a group of about 50 young people and police.

After being pelted with projectiles, the police used water cannon to clear the square. The Paris prosecutors office said 26 people had been detained.

Hundreds turned out for similar rallies in other cities.

The government argues that the proposed law is needed because police officers have become the targets of attacks and of calls for violence against them posted on social media.

But French media say a “new national plan of law enforcement” is being used to limit media coverage of demonstrations.

The proposed security law, which has already been approved by the National Assembly, is to be examined by the Senate, France’s upper parliamentary chamber, in March.