Last week, a controversial bill titled the Global Security Law was green-lit by lawmakers in the National Assembly under the claim that it will provide further protection to the police. Although the bill still needs to go through the Senate, human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have voiced their concerns about several articles that infringe on democratic rights. In response, hundreds of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets across the country, whilst police have violently clashed with crowds. To find out more, we spoke with photojournalist Léa Michaëlis (@michaelistudio) who is covering the protests.
Lawyers of the Black Robe Brigade on the Statue of the Republic in Paris protest for the fate of the refugees, November 24 2020. Photo by Léa Michaëlis.
1. What is the proposed Global Security Law?
The comprehensive security law is a project supported by the French Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, which prohibits the dissemination of images of police officers (Article 24), directly attacking the freedom to inform and the freedom of the press. Anyone who broadcasts these images will be punished with one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. The rest of this law is also dangerous; it includes surveillance by drones during demonstrations, facial recognition and the right for off-duty police officers to carry weapons (Articles 21 and 22).
2. Why is it so controversial?
This bill is controversial because it shows the will of the government to control the people and to carry out global surveillance. The police are protecting themselves from the people rather than defending them. This law is a problem for journalists and photographers who will no longer be able to report information but instead be punished for it. It is also a problem for people who would otherwise be able to obtain justice through photographs. This law puts everyone at risk.
3. Who is supporting the bill and are they the same people benefitting from it?
This measure was suggested and reported by Jean-Michel Fauvergue, the former boss of RAID (elite tactical unit of the French National Police) and an MP of La République en Marche, the political party of President Emmanuel Macron. This law is obviously supported by some members of the government, in particular by Gérald Darmanin, as well as right-wing political parties. It mainly benefits the police, but it also gives the government more control over their public image.
4. What are the main concerns you have if the law goes through?
I may be an idealist, but for now I can't imagine what could happen, it's inconceivable for my country and me. If this law passes, we will have to think about how to get around it and continue to protest for it to be removed.
5. Why do you think the government want to put this law into place now, particularly since there has been so much criticism recently from the international community, including the United Nations, towards French police?
Since the Yellow Vests* (“Les Gilets Jaunes”), the government wants to protect itself from popular uprisings. France has failed to manage the covid-crisis and French people are unhappy because of this hugely precarious period. This law makes it possible to control the image of the country and to ignore police violence, especially during demonstrations. The victims of police violence and their families are gradually releasing their stories and this frightens the government, which wants to master a "clean" image concerning the "values of the Republic".
6. Who is joining the protests?
This protest brings everyone together. Young people, workers, minorities and racially targeted people feel concerned. There are ecologists and feminist groups protesting because militant actions are threatened.
In the demonstrations, there are not many right-wing supporters, however right-wing media and right-wing journalists are sometimes against this law and demonstrate alongside the left-wing. That shows this law concerns EVERYBODY.
7. How are politicians reacting to the protests; are there any political parties supporting the protestors?
Gérald Darmanin spoke on television about this law after the demonstrations kept recurring, as well as the police violence that Michel Zecler suffered. He also received journalists, although without success because dialogue with the minister is impossible. The Prime Minister also tried to invite a delegation of journalists, whilst the President, for his part, must speak on the subject. We feel that the Élysée are panicking.
Obviously, the political parties whose MPs voted against the law in the National Assembly, support the demonstrators, in particular the left wing party La France Insoumise.
8. Macron has been a divisive figure, but he is seen internationally as a supporter of democracy; do you think this law is harmful for democracy and are you surprised that it has been proposed under Macron’s leadership?
France represents democracy in the eyes of the world. But Macron does not represent democracy. Here is the nuance.
Documenting, denouncing and disseminating images is all part of the freedom of the press, and this is one of the things that differentiates us from countries under dictatorship. This law is undemocratic.
9. On Monday the National Assembly announced that the "majority would propose a new wording" of Article 24; do you think this will satisfy the demands of the protestors?
No. They do not want a rewrite of the bill, they want this bill completely dropped. The government's strategy is to make the French people believe that they have heard and understood their protests and that they will take them into account by amending the law. But in reality, it will only be slightly changed and passed through anyway.
10. Who else should we be following for the latest news?
I would advise everyone to follow independent web media and independent journalists who document the protests as closely as possible live on the ground and who really feel the demonstrations. Without hesitation, the journalist Taha Bouhafs (Twitter, Insta) who relays a lot of information concerning this law and the protests, and @cerveaux_non_disponibles.
*In the two years that the Yellow Vests have been protesting, 6000 people have been injured: five protestors’ hands blown off, 35 blinded, 318 severe head injuries and three deaths.