Paris, France: France’s top constitutional authority said on Thursday it had rejected a key article of a new security law that could see prosecutions of people who publish footage of police officers in action.
Sending President Emmanuel Macron’s government back to the drawing board, the Constitutional Council said that lawmakers who passed the controversial legislation had not set out clearly enough what would constitute a breach of the law in such situations.
Article 52, which sparked massive street protests at the end of last year, is part of a security law drafted by Macron’s ruling party and adopted by parliament on April 15.
It says anyone causing police officers or other members of security forces to be identifiable during an operation could face up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($90,000).
But the Council, known in France as “The Wise Ones”, said the law failed to specify whether this related only to live operations or also to past ones, and what exactly constituted a police “operation”.
It also said it was unclear whether any “malevolent” intent to identify officers was already grounds for prosecution, or whether only the actual publishing of images was punishable.
“The Constitutional Council concluded therefore that the legislative body did not sufficiently define the elements that constitute the offense in question”, it said in its ruling.
‘Improve the provisions’
In response, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would seek “to improve the provisions that were the subject of reservations by the Constitutional Council”.
Christophe Deloire, the head of press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), tweeted: “This is very good news for the ability of journalists to cover protests.”
The Council, which also took issue with other articles of the law, ensures that laws voted by both houses of parliament are compatible with the French constitution, and is often asked for its opinion on questions of civil liberties.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets for several weekends at the end of last year against the law, with some of the demonstrations ending in rioting.
Critics argue that the security law will make it harder for journalists and citizens to document cases of police brutality.
Footage of white police beating up an unarmed black music producer in his Paris studio in November amplified anger over the legislation, seen as signaling a rightward lurch by Macron.
Other incidents caught on camera include police in Paris using violence to tear down a migrant camp.
In the face of mounting protests, the LREM ruling party agreed to rewrite the article dealing with filming the police.
The government has argued that the law is needed because police officers have become targets of attacks and calls for violence against them on social media.
Thousands of French police officers rallied in Paris on Wednesday demanding better protection and harsher punishment for attacks against them, two weeks after the killing of an officer sent shockwaves through the force.
Police unions had called for the gathering after officer Eric Masson was shot dead earlier this month while investigating activity at a known drug-dealing site in the southern city of Avignon.
The death of the 36-year-old father-of-two caused deep shock and reignited a debate over Macron’s record on fighting crime ahead of next year’s presidential election.