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Issue #1945      14th December, 2020

“Police everywhere, justice nowhere”

France resists global security bill

Weekly protests have broken out across France since President Macron attempted to introduce the deceptively titled Global Security bill. The protests swiftly grew in numbers, eventually being organised across seventy cities, with highest estimates recording just over half a million protestors in Paris alone. Article 24 of this bill outlaws protestors, the general public, and journalists, from filming police officers if the filming is deemed “ill-intentioned,” a vague and meaningless term. Anyone caught filming could be sentence to one year in jail and a €45,000 fine.

Many protestors have taken this as an attack not only on the freedom of the press but also on the ability of protestors to be able to capture police brutality. The bill’s slippery wording leaves it to the discretion of the police to determine if an image or video would “have for its purpose the aim of harming the agent’s physical or psychological well-being” were it to be published publicly.

Article 24 states that this includes “the image of the face or any other identifying features of the national police or a national military gendarme while they are acting in the service of a police operation.” This concern for the “physical or psychological well-being” does not seem to be extended to protestors or journalists. It must be quite difficult for the police to feel safe being backed only by the entire legislative and judiciary force of the state!

Article 24 is only one part of the bill however; even United Nations (UN) human rights experts have expressed grave concerns over the bill in its entirety. Article 21 allows the police to film anything they’re involved in and Article 22 authorises the use of drones with facial recognition technology to monitor public spaces. One must truly be in dire straits if even the UN is condemning one of its own permanent five Security Council members for human rights violations.

Aware of the underhanded nature of this manoeuvre, the French government tried to get the bill passed quickly: the original bill was proposed on 20th October, it was looked over by the National Assembly over four days and then adopted on 24th November. This is undoubtedly an extremely fast process for a bill of such national significance.

The resistance to it was just as swift. Yellow Vests gathered alongside the French Communist Party, human rights activists, ecological collectives, and journalist unions to denounce the proposed measures. Through discipline and careful organisation, the protestors were even able to prevent right-wing infiltration. In Strasbourg, protestors kicked out a group of fascists from the protest chanting “Tout le monde déteste les fascistes” (“Everybody hates fascists”) which can be watched online.

After sustained protests, the Macron government eventually backed down and announced they would rewrite the bill with France’s other major parties. However, what will remain from the rest of the bill is unclear. It has already been passed by the Lower House and is due to be heard by the Senate in January which vastly complicates the ability to rewrite it. An example of these underhanded tactics can be found much closer to home in Guardian issue #1941 article “Berwick’s changes don’t alter bill’s fascist character.” Re-writing bills can be a useful exercise for politicians, deploying more deceptive language to re-introduce the same, if not worse, measures. Any bill with ambiguous language not only allows the police to play fast and loose with the wording: they also give room for courts to interpret them in favour of the police.

Marx and Engels paid particular attention to revolutionary activity in France, exemplified in Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), The Civil War in France (1871) or The Class Struggle in France (1871) among many others. In France they saw the first attempt at a truly revolutionary organisation of the proletariat in the form of the Paris Commune and spent a lot of their time closely analysing political developments in France.

Over the past several years France has continued to show what is politically possible: the ongoing resistance of the Yellow Vests, the protests celebrating the 50th anniversary of May ’68, the trade union demonstrations against railway privatisation in 2019. France still remains a site of revolutionary activity worth keeping an eye on and drawing lessons from. While no model of protest can be copied exactly from one country to another, these protests ought to remind us of the power of mass mobilisation has against unjust conditions.

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