France parliament mask
© Anne-Christine Poujoulat, AFP
The President of the LREM Parliamentary Group, Christophe Castaner, on November 30, 2020 in Paris, France.
The French parliament has dropped a controversial bill that would have curbed the right to film police officers in action, the speaker of parliament and leader of President Emmanuel Macron's ruling party announced on Monday.

"The bill will be completely rewritten and a new version will be submitted," Christophe Castaner, head of Macron's LREM (La République en marche) party told a news conference.

Comment: One wonders just what will be in this 'rewrite'.

The draft bill had prompted protests across the country called by press freedom advocates and civil rights campaigners. Tens of thousands of people marched Saturday in Paris calling for the government to drop the measure, including families and friends of people killed by police.

Critics feared that the proposed law would have deprived journalists and others of a potent weapon against police misconduct - including videos of police actions - and threaten efforts to document cases of police brutality, particularly in immigrant neighbourhoods.

The importance of documenting police activity was underscored again last week by the brutal beating of a Black man in Paris.

Comment: Notably initial reports were that the police jumped on this man because he wasn't wearing a mask.

"I was lucky enough to have videos, which protected me," said Michel Zecler, a Black music producer who was beaten by at least four police officers. Videos first published Thursday by French website Loopsider have been seen by more than 14 million viewers, resulting in widespread outrage.

Two officers remain in custody but two others have been released on bail as the investigation continues.

Hardening of police tactics in France

The proposed "global security" law, as it was called, was partly a response to demands from police unions, who said it would provide greater protection for officers. The bill aimed to prevent recognisable images of police officers from appearing on social media for fear they would face retribution for just doing their jobs.

Abdoulaye Kanté, a Black police officer with 20 years of experience in Paris and its suburbs, is a supporter of the proposed law who also strongly condemns police brutality.

"What people don't understand is that some individuals are using videos to put the faces of our colleagues on social media so that they are identified, so that they are threatened or to incite hatred," he said.

"The law doesn't ban journalists or citizens from filming police in action ... It bans these images from being used to do harm, physically or psychologically," he argued, adding: "The lives of officers are important."

Comment: Incitement of violence is surely already covered by French law, and there is clearly a reason journalist unions supported these protests, and it's obvioulsy not because they want to see police harmed.

A "tiny fraction of the population feeds rage and hatred" against police, said Jean-Michel Fauvergue, a former head of elite police forces and an LREM lawmaker who co-authored the bill, in comments at the National Assembly (lower house). "We need to find a solution."

Critics noted a hardening of police tactics during protests or while arresting individuals. Hundreds of complaints have been filed against officers during the Yellow Vest movement for economic justice that erupted in 2018 and saw weekends of violent clashes.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that, out of 3 million police operations per year in France, some 9,500 end up on a government website that denounces abuses - a mere 0.3 percent.