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French MPs mull criminalising the sharing of police pictures online

Nov 18, 2020

Paris (France) November 18: French politicians are debating a new law that would criminalise any social media videos which identify police officers.
Article 24 would amend current legislation to make it an offence to show the face or identity of any officer on duty "with the aim of damaging their physical or psychological integrity".
The offense would carry a prison sentence of up to one year and a maximum fine of €45,000.
The amendment to France's global security legislation was proposed in October by President Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche! and its ally, Agir.
The French parliament rejected a similar proposal earlier this year.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin says the new amendment is necessary to "protect those who protect us", amid reports that police officers are being increasingly targeted and threatened.
But the proposed law has proven controversial with human rights groups and media organisations, who argue that the wording is too vague and is a danger to press freedom.
What does Article 24 say?
Article 24 would make it an offence to "disseminate, by whatever means and on whatever medium, with the aim of damaging physical or psychological integrity, the image of the face or any other element of identification of an official of the national police or a member of the national gendarmerie when they are acting in the context of a police operation".
The clause states the officer must be identifiable and the sharing of the video must be done intentionally to cause them harm.
But the law does not prevent journalists from communicating images of police officers to the "competent administrative and judicial authorities" in their work.
However, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the article in the draft law was based on a "slippery concept" because the concept of intent was "open to interpretation and hard to determine".
"Any photos or video showing identifiable police officers that are published or broadcast by critical media outlets or are accompanied by critical comments could find themselves being accused of seeking to harm these police officers," said RSF in a statement.
"For journalists, the legal risk exists and the possibility of conviction would be real."
RSF has also voiced concerns that journalists' homes and offices could also be searched following a prosecutor's order under Article 24 complaints.
"The problem is the possible consequences of this article", RSF spokesperson, Pauline Ades-Mevel, told Euronews.
"The prosecutor could seek evidence in the journalists' emails or background and we need clarity of this.
"The bill as it stands now is not the best solution to prevent the police being threatened."
The organisation has called for clear guarantees that the proposed law would not enable police to arrest journalists while filming or prevent the media from publishing or broadcasting images of police officers.
France's independent "defender of rights", Claire Hedon, has also said the legislation could pose "considerable risks" on information freedom and privacy.
Journalists' unions and associations gathered on Tuesday, outside the Assemblee Nationale in Paris to demonstrate against the proposed amendment.
'This could contribute to a culture of impunity'
A French government spokesperson has stated that the new amendment is "obviously not a ban on filming and broadcasting police officers during demonstrations or interventions".
French law and order forces were widely criticised for their use of rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas during 'gilets jaunes' demonstrations last year.
Earlier this year, a 42-year-old French delivery driver Cedric Chouviat died after he was arrested by police in Paris, and video footage taken on the scene has become a key part of the ongoing investigation.
Lawyer William Bourdon, who represents the family of Cedric Chouviat, said Article 24 will prevent victims of police abuse from "establishing the truth".
"It will suffocate truth and it will suffocate access to justice," Bourdon told Euronews.
"You imagine if such law was proposed in other European countries or the US, it's clear that citizens and reporters have always had the ability to take videos of these instances."
Human rights groups have also argued that Article 24 would cover up instances of police brutality and threaten citizen's ability to inform.
"If such a law were to enter into force as it stands, it would constitute a serious violation of the right to information, to respect for private life, and to freedom of peaceful assembly, three conditions which are nevertheless essential to the right to freedom of expression," said Amnesty France.
"This could contribute to a culture of impunity which ultimately damages the image of the police and contributes to undermining the necessary bond of trust between the police and the population."
The President of Amnesty International France, Cecile Coudriou, told Euronews that the law could have a "chilling effect" on citizens and prevent them from coming forward with evidence.
"We are confident that we can raise awareness among the population but also among members of Parliament before they start the debate."
Article 24 must pass through both the French Parliament Assemblee Nationale and the Senate before becoming law.
Parliamentary debates are scheduled to continue until the end of the week.
Source: Euro News