ER Editor: We also recommend this piece by RFI titled French lower house approves ‘anti-rioter’ bill. Of note:
After heated debate, French MPs in the National Assembly approved new rules for public demonstrations that allow extended bag searches, make it an offense to wear face coverings, oblige vandals to pay for damages and, most controversially, ban certain individuals from attending rallies.
It is a common reaction for France’s government and lawmakers to extend the means of security and law enforcement officials in times of social unrest.
“When public order is threatened, there is a habit in France to pass a new law to reinforce whatever power the police or judges have,” says Philippe Moreau Chevrolet, who teaches political communication at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.
“Usually [such proposals] are tempered by human rights activists, and we reach an equilibrium between the necessities of public order and of human rights. But we don’t seem to be reaching that point anymore.”
But the bill itself had already been tabled months before the protests began by the right-wing opposition party Les Républicains – a fact that shows the extent to which Macron’s administration is able to appropriate the policies of its rivals and leave them little place on the political scene.
“Any initiative that they have, that the government is able to take on board and defend, is like one more nail in their coffin,” Moreau Chevrolet says. “Macron did exactly the same thing to the left, incorporating a lot of left-wing people and political ideas.”
French MPs back ‘anti-riot’ law, forbidding protesters from hiding faces & barring troublemakers
Despite claims that it may curb civil liberties and a heated debate in the parliament, the legislation was backed on Tuesday by 387 MPs, with only 92 “no” votes.
The anti-riot law makes it illegal for protesters to hide their faces, gives law enforcement more powers to remove potential “troublemakers” from rallies, and allows the authorities to ban some individuals from even showing up at demonstrations.
That last provision has caused objections from even some members of President Emmanuel Macron’s own party, who called it an attack on the fundamental freedom to protest.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who presented the bill in the parliament, has argued that it was about “stopping the brutes” and showing “zero tolerance for violence.”
Under the new law, those who “participate in disorder” or even find themselves in the vicinity of a violent demonstration on a public road may be punished by a year in prison and a 15,000 euro fine.
The bill will be considered by the Senate on March 12 as the government of President Emmanuel Macron hopes for its swift adoption into law as the country remains gripped by the Yellow Vest protests.
Thousands of people wearing high-visibility jackets have been protesting across France every weekend since November. The rallies, which were ignited by government-proposed fuel tax hikes but quickly morphed into broader discontent with Macron’s policies, frequently got out of control.
The demonstrators in Paris and other cities destroyed property, torched cars, blocked roads and clashed with police. The authorities haven’t hesitated to apply violence to suppress the rioters, putting tear gas, water cannons and non-lethal guns to use and seriously injuring dozens of people.
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