PARIS – French Prime Minister Jean Castex was in the process early Friday of forming an independent commission that would look to rewrite some controversial language in the government’s new proposed global security bill.
Castex’s announcement came late Thursday after being proposed by Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin’s, as reported in Le Monde.
Several MPs, however, were taken aback by Castex’s move, especially former Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who expressed “astonishment” to Castex, and said he and fellow parliamentarians were “indignant.”
Given the circumstances, Castex changed course later Friday and issued a new letter to Richard Ferrand, President of the National Assembly, on the commission, part of which read: “I confirm to you that the task of proposing a re-writing of a legislative provision will not fall within the scope of this committee, a mission which can only be the responsibility of parliament.”
The bill, introduced by La Republique En Marche (LREM) earlier this month, was voted on and adopted Tuesday by the National Assembly. It will now move to the Senate in January for examination.
The contested Article 24 of the bill is multifarious, but chiefly supplements the law of July 29, 1881, on freedom of the press. Its controversial part comes in the statement, “Dissemination of face images or any other identifying element of an officer belonging to the national police or the gendarmerie acting in the context of a policing operation, by any means whatsoever and on any medium whatsoever, with the aim of causing harm to his or her physical or psychological integrity, shall be punishable by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros [over $53,700].”
The article prohibits photographs of officers in the line of duty from spreading unduly online and in the media. According to France24, supporters say it protects law enforcement, members of which are very often subjected to harassment.
Castex’s initial announcement came on the heels of his meeting Thursday with journalists and media unions who have objected vehemently to the bill’s passage, opposing its limits on freedom of expression. Tuesday’s adoption of the legislation sparked protests last weekend, and additional demonstrations are planned Saturday.
In a news release Thursday, Castex detailed that the bill’s editing will entail “a new wording of Article 24 in order to respect the objective pursued while dispelling any doubt about respect for the freedom to inform.”
The commission Castex planned to appoint — to be chaired by Jean-Michel Burguburu, head of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CHCDC) — was promptly rebuked by parliamentarians. Its formation remains to be seen.
National Assembly President Ferrand expressed opposition to an external body and said he held “deep emotion” for the tenets of the bill. He called the creation of a commission “an attack on the missions of Parliament.”
“In the end, only parliamentarians write and vote the law,” said Ferrand, according to French daily franceinfo.
Police brutality has been a thorny issue in France in recent years. This week, two incidents in Paris stunned officials, including the interior minister.
On Saturday, police accosted music producer Michel Zecler inside a studio in Paris’s 17th arrondissement, causing him extensive injury, and tossed a teargas grenade through the window as they left the premises. Later, officers wrote a false description of the events in a police report.
Darmanin said the event was “shocking” and called for the officers’ suspension Thursday.
Monday, officers were again found using excessive force to clear a migrant camp on Paris’s Place de la Republique in the 11th arrondissement, an unnecessary and harsh action in which several migrants were seen beaten in footage that went viral.
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