France’s parliament passes security bill increasing police powers

Parliament votes for bill despite criticisms from activists who say it threatens efforts to denounce police abuse.

Opponents say the new draft still remains vague and subject to interpretation by police officers [Charles Platiau/Reuters)

France’s parliament passed a security bill on Thursday to extend police powers despite criticism from civil rights activists who fear it threatens efforts to denounce police abuse.

The bill was approved 75 votes for to 33 against at the National Assembly, where French President Emmanuel Macron’s party, which proposed the measure, has a large majority. The Senate has already adopted the bill.

“Policemen and gendarmes are the republic’s children and they must be protected because they protect us every day,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said following the vote.

In an effort to quell criticism, legislators redrafted the most controversial article of the text. It now says helping to identify on-duty police officers with “obvious” harmful intent will be punishable by up to five years in prison and a 75,000 euro-fine ($89,800).

Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Paris in November to denounce the initial provision that was making it illegal to simply publish images of police officers with harmful intent.

Opponents still say the new draft remains vague and subject to interpretation by police officers. They also fear it will intimidate people trying to fight police abuse and discrimination by taking and publishing pictures and videos.

“This bill … throws suspicion on the role of police. It gives the impression that this necessary public service can’t be subject to any criticism from citizens,” said Alexis Corbiere, a lawmaker from the far-left La France Insoumise party who opposed the bill.

Macron’s government said the law was needed to better protect police amid threats and attacks by a violent fringe and increasing harassment on social media. The bill also gives more autonomy to local police and extends the use of surveillance drones.

The French branch of Amnesty International warned on Twitter about the “dangers” the bill posed to civil liberties and denounced its “generalized surveillance practices.”

The text has “vague provisions that could allow abusive and unfair legal proceedings”, the rights group said.

Source: AP