16:22 GMT15 January 2021
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    The French government's proposal to expand the use of surveillance and criminalise the sharing of images of on duty police officers came under heavy fire from rights groups, the press and even resulted in mass demonstrations of tens of thousands of people. There is a "total lack of trust" between the state and the public, a French tells Sputnik.

    The French government recently withdrew it's highly controversial 'global security' bill, which would have increased the use of surveillance drones, expand police powers and prohibit the publication of videos of police whilst engaged in their duties, under certain circumstances.

    Article 24 of the bill proposed criminalising the dissemination of the "image of the face or any other element of identification of an official of the national police or of a soldier of the national gendarmerie when acting within the framework of 'a police operation' and when this dissemination is made 'with the aim of harming his physical or mental integrity'”. Although the bill has been stayed by the government, ministers say they will return with a new version.

    Soraya Rachedi is a contributor to the radio station France Maghreb 2. She has a sociology and anthropology master’s degree from the Université Paris VII Diderot with specialties in migration, political and social sciences, racism and alterities. Ms Rachedi explained to Sputnik that part of the push for the 'global security' bill is motivated by French President Emmanuel Macron's desire to court segments of the right-wing ahead of the upcoming elections, but that this law is both short-sighted and ill-conceived.

    Sputnik: Explain the proposals that were made by the government of Emmanuel Macron regarding the filming of police.

    Soraya Rachedi: Regarding the controversial article 24, that would ban on disseminating the face of an agent for "malicious" purposes, the government has been seeking to support police unions in a context of [mass public demonstrations and] social demands for several years now (such as the Yellow Vests movement). A desire to "protect those who protect us" as underlined by the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, who originated this article.

    Sputnik: Why did they say these proposals were necessary?

    Soraya Rachedi: For them, this article aims to protect the police from the harmful effects generated by the dissemination of their faces and identities on social networks and from possible threats to “physical or mental integrity”. Also, this allows the government to underline their support for the police forces in these times of social and health crises in the country.

    Sputnik: Why do you think they want these legal changes?

    Soraya Rachedi: It seems to me that these changes are anything but strategically intelligent on the part of our rulers who from one week to the next change their messages to the French population. This article marks, in my opinion, a line that the government has crossed, without considering the discontent of part of the population and of the press. The objective, in my opinion, was to provide more support to the police so that they have more freedom in the way they "frame" demonstrations. More freedoms for the police institution to the detriment of freedom of information and of the population in general. This shows us that there is a systemic problem in the supervision of the police based on their training (see for example the work of sociologist Didier Fassin, "The force of order", Paris, 2011), the institution which is supposed to supervise them - The General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN) -  and the current policies of "blurring" excesses committed by the police as well as the curtailment of the ability of journalists to inform the wider population.

    Sputnik: What would be the consequences for members of the public and press if these proposals become law?

    Soraya Rachedi: This possibility is, I hope, not to be considered. However if this was the case and the French population would have seen their demands repressed, it is, I think, normal to think that this government becomes more and more a police state where the most violent among them will be able to express their violence on the population by tainting the whole profession even more.

    The main problem in this country is the total lack of trust between those who govern us and part of the population. We can testify to this extreme mistrust through various examples of subjects that cross our society today. To name a few: the issue of vaccines and the mask, how to consider re-containment and finally this article of law. In my opinion, it is not the content per se of the article that is dangerous, but the form it takes and the tensions it generates.

    By validating this article, I fear that this gap is likely to widen further. In practice, the police are already protected by law and all serious media already blur the faces of those filmed, especially if they are a police officer. It is through social media that the IGPN has ended up, on several occasions, taking actions against police following complaints by indignant people who have seen a video of police abuse.

    Sputnik: How did the French public and media respond to these proposals?

    Soraya Rachedi: I haven't seen a single journalist (any newspaper or TV channel) who [supported] this article. The French public is, let us remember, diverse and does not represent a homogeneous community. So there were different reactions. A part of the population very clearly rejected this article, in particular those concerned for a long time by police violence, be they associations, citizens having participated or not in the movements of the Yellows Vests. Just look at the demonstration on Saturday, November 28, which brought together 130,000 demonstrators (according to the Interior Ministry), including 46,000 in Paris (22,000 the week before) and 500,000 protesters (according to the organizers) across France.

    Also, note the recent context in Paris where a black music producer Michel Zecler was attacked by several police officers who were inadvertently filmed by the production room and neighbours. The images revolted the whole of France and everyone knows that without these images, the words of this young man would have little value. In response: a year in prison or a fine of €45,000. This may have been experienced as pure provocation and a total contempt of the government vis-à-vis the victims of police violence who, let us remember, are not few in certain French neighbourhoods.

    Sputnik: Is the government still planning on pushing forward with this new law?

    Soraya Rachedi: The Executive now finds itself caught between the demands [of masses of the public] and the mobilisation that this generates and the police unions and more generally the right-wing French political party concerned with the well-being of the police to the detriment of individual freedoms. Which is however one of the foundations of our republic. However, we see a decline on the part of the government who wish to reformulate the article without deleting it.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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