The French government has decided to “totally rewrite” part of a new controversial security law that has sparked nationwide protests, amid a raging debate over police violence and accountability.
The announcement came from parliamentary groups representing President Emmanuel Macron”s LREM (La République en Marche) movement.
The measure known as “Article 24”, part of a “global security” law, would make it an offence to film and identify police officers online if there is intent to harm — sparking fears that it might enable police to act with impunity.
The government will propose “a complete new rewrite” of the contested article, said the LREM’s parliamentary leader Christophe Castaner at a news conference on Monday.
“We know that doubts still persist” and “we must put out these doubts” because “when such a misunderstanding does not cease to intensify on such a fundamental subject, we have the duty to call ourselves into question collectively,” said Castaner, a former interior minister.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across France at the weekend to protest against the new security law, which passed its first stage in the French parliament last week. Amid clashes in Paris and elsewhere, 98 members of the security forces were injured and there were 81 arrests, the interior ministry said.
The controversial article, which has come under scrutiny from the EU and the UN, has come into sharp focus over the past week after events in Paris put the spotlight on police violence.
Officers were caught on camera beating up a black music producer, the footage of which was uploaded to the internet and viewed millions of times, provoking a national scandal. Four officers have since been charged, with two held in custody.
Earlier last week the police were also criticised for their heavy-handed clearing of a migrant camp in central Paris, amid chaotic and sometimes violent scenes.
In July three officers were charged with manslaughter over the death of a delivery driver, Cédric Chouviat, whose violent arrest near Paris was filmed by onlookers who shared the images on social media.
Many on the left had called for Article 24 to be withdrawn, which has prompted huge protests and intensified political tensions. Human rights groups and media organisations also said the law would allow police violence to go unaccounted for.
Castaner told the news conference at the French National Assembly that Article 24 had two objectives. The first, he said, was to protect members of the security forces from incitement to violence.
The second was to preserve the freedom of the press and to inform, be it by journalists or members of the public. “This freedom is in our blood,” Castaner added, insisting there was no intention to ban images from being published, broadcast or posted on social media.
The announcement follows several meetings on Monday involving French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. After meeting parliamentarians by videolink he was due at the Elysée Palace to see President Macron, Prime Minister Jean Castex and Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti.
The interior minister is appearing before a parliamentary commission from 18.15 CET.
Darmanin condemned the attack on Michel Zecler, calling for those who assaulted the music producer to be sacked.
President Macron took to Twitter to say: “The images that we have all seen of Michel Zecler’s assault are unacceptable. They shame us.”