As of January, 2019 it is becoming more likely that laws will be passed to prohibit protesting in France on a wide scale. The proposed law contains 8 articles and 263 amendments which would give the police the ability to stop demonstrations as well as search all people and vehicles involved. The French have held long debate sessions in regard to these new laws, and despite that some provisions have been implemented already. On February 5 a full vote will be held on the proposals and many have complained publicly that this will strip the rights of the people further. Aurelien Tache, a member of the majority was quoted saying “We can restrict the freedoms only in very specific cases, under the control of the judge. Common law can not establish a system of restriction by principle and freedom by exception. This is what the germ is in this law.”
There are three measures in particular that have led to people having such serious issues with these laws being passed. The first is the possibility to search all vehicles near a demonstration to confiscate “weapons by destination.” The second is that the prefect can prohibit demonstrations entirely. The last being that covering your face would result in a 15,000 euro fine and 1 year in prison. The law was proposed by their Senate Republican Bruno Retailleau who is also the Minister of Interior. Christophe Castaner was quoted saying “We have chosen to defend the millions of French who cannot do more than that of a few thousand brutes” at the introductory debates at the National Assembly. These words set the tone for how the Government has taken an extreme approach to dealing with the Yellow Vest protesters in the past months. Despite all the debates, the text still has not been changed much.
Articles 1 and 2 have been debated the most so far as people have the most concerns with these parts. Article 1 in the first version allowed similar precautions to the 2016 Euro football game, where the prefect could permit police to search anyone in a targeted area. In the end the police listened to the Government, and the mention of these measures disappeared due to the public prosecutor. It soon expanded to include all vehicles and luggage as well, so that police could confiscate anything capable of being used as a weapon. These laws would allegedly go into effect 24 hours before an event, and Secretary General of the Union of Judiciary Vincent Chamoillaux was quoted saying ” It’s very vague, we can consider a weapon to be some quite unusual things. We risk falling into a fairly extensive practice justifying many arrests just because you have a flagpole to carry your flag.”
Nicolaus Krameyer on Amnesty International added that “people will not necessarily be prosecuted, but they have been deprived of liberty up to 48 hours and it will be registered in their criminal record when they were just protesting. This would be one more way to justify massive arrests, such as those practiced by the 1st and 8th of December, where they had also used a putative offense grouping to commit violence.” Another individual interviewed named Ugo Bernalicis says he doubts this will change anything happening currently. “It’s ridiculous. Today, when you go to protest, already, in fact, you are searched and you cannot go protest if you refuse. This is the display.” Article 2 as well would allow individuals to be banned from protest for 1 month if they harmed an individual or destroyed property. Any failure to comply with this would result in being jailed for 6 months and a 7,500 Euro fine.
Vincent Chamoillaux went on record to say “We reverse the logic of the presumption of innocence, without contradictory procedure, the prefect will be able to forbid you to protest and it is up to you to contest. The criteria are extremely vague and allow them to aim wide.” A dozen members of the majority tabled an amendment to delete the article and Aurelien Tache who wrote it was quoted saying “Prefects today would not do anything. But tomorrow another power could have an extremely broad appreciation of the ban on demonstrations. I am very, very concerned about this.” He also added that the safeguards proposed by the MP and LREM Parliamentarians were refused, and the only thing removed was the ability to search the property of relatives to these demonstrators.
Article 3 requires people who have been banned from protesting to register on the wanted persons file, like the sex offender registry but for basic criminal offenses. Article 4 was adopted on January 30 to prevent the concealment of ones face and punish with a fine and jail time. Ugo Bernalicis commented on this too, saying “The fine is already very little pronounced, and when there are, many are lifted because there is a case law that says wearing a balaclava is not hiding your face.” Basically, the measures remain the same according to several sources interviewed. Its still debatable when these measures will take effect as it is a bill it cannot be expedited. It could take several months to pass through the Parliament before its constitutionality is weighed.
Dunja Mijatovic of the European Council for human rights was quoted saying the following when asked about the possibility of this case being brought before her court: “From such measures, the proportionality of which seems to me questionable, do not seem to me to be necessary to guarantee the freedom of assembly effectively and may, on the contrary, be perceived as an obstacle to the exercise of this freedom. In such a delicate context, I invite the government and the legislator not to go in this direction and to privilege the ways of dialogue and to guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It would seem that many are aware of how these laws can result in improper use, and the reduction of freedoms provided in their constitution, and only time will tell how it all plays out.
For me, I can absolutely agree with the sentiment to stop violence and destruction on all sides of the Yellow Vest movement. I also can see many ways these laws could ultimately be used against the French. How hard would it be to pay people to act out at an event, and use the actions of the few to systematically jail anybody willing to speak out against the Government? The ways these laws can be used against the people only lead me to the notion that perhaps they appear to stem from a place desiring an end to violence, but in fact only want to quell the frustrations of their people by silencing them. A large piece of these movements deals with corrupt politicians, and a disconnect between the ruling class and the people. It would seem only logical to me that if the French government wanted to end these protests they would be listening to the people more, not less.
February 2, 2019