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French minister suggests journalists should alert police before reporting on protests

Under fire from press freedom groups over a draft law seeking to limit the filming of police officers on duty, France's interior minister has drawn further ire by telling journalists wishing to cover demonstrations to alert authorities beforehand.

French minister suggests journalists should alert police before reporting on protests
AFP

Gérald Darmanin (pictured below) told a press conference on Wednesday that such prior declarations could “avoid confusion” if police are forced to take action against unruly protesters.

But journalists' unions say it could give police a green light to prevent them from doing their work and potentially documenting abuses by security forces.

Darmanin's comments came as a France Television journalist was detained on Tuesday while covering a protest against a new security law outside parliament in Paris, which would restrict the publication of photos or videos taken of police officers' faces while in action.

READ ALSO OPINION: French interior minister is becoming a danger to Macron and France

 

The French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. AFP

The journalist was held overnight and only released around midday on Thursday, and other journalists also said they had been prevented from filming arrests as police broke up the demonstration. 

The new law would criminalise the publication of images of police officers with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity”. In many cases an officer's face would have to be blurred.

French police have been in the spotlight in recent years for alleged brutality meted out to protesters as well as criminal suspects, especially those from black or Arab minorities.

A series of incidents caught on video and spread on social media have spurred calls, and numerous demonstrations, for police reform.

But police say they risk great personal threat in the line of duty, and dozens have been injured in clashes with violent protesters in recent years.

An attack on a police station outside Paris last month by dozens of people armed with fireworks and steel bars spurred the government into taking concrete measures.

Darmanin, a staunch defender of the controversial new “comprehensive security” bill, said on Wednesday that journalists should declare themselves to the authorities “to make themselves known, to be protected by the police… to do their work as journalists during protests.”

He later clarified in a tweet that this was not an obligation, but press unions nevertheless expressed fear his statement would send the wrong message to police looking for an excuse to interfere in their reporting work.

Free press advocates are planning demonstrations in Paris and elsewhere in France on Saturday. 

The UN Human Rights Council has warned the security bill, if passed, “could discourage, even punish those who could supply elements of potential human rights violations by law enforcement, and provide a sort of immunity.”

France's human rights auditor has also warned of “considerable risks” from the new law, saying: “The publication of images regarding police interventions are legitimate and necessary for a democracy to function.”

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PROTESTS

Students blockade Paris schools in election protest

Students blockaded five schools in Paris on Tuesday to demonstrate their political concerns ahead of the second round of the Presidential elections on Sunday.

Students blockade Paris schools in election protest

In addition to the five blockaded lycées, the université Paris 8 in Saint-Denis was closed “for security reasons”.

The students – who are too young to make their voices heard at the ballot box – were protesting against the options available to voters in the second round – where incumbent Emmanuel Macron takes on far-right leader Marine Le Pen – and follows earlier student protests at the Sorbonne.

Many were demonstrating in protest at what they saw as inadequate policies on climate change and social issues from both candidates in the final round of voting, as well as the lack of choice for the electorate.

“It is a continuation of what happened at the Sorbonne,” one student told AFP. “We want a third social round, because the two candidates qualified for the second round have no social or ecological programmes. 

“We want to give a new breath to this Fifth Republic a little at the end of the race.

“We are fed up with the fascist state. We are here against Marine Le Pen, against fascism, for the climate and against capitalism,” another student at the lycée Louis-le-Grand in the capital’s fifth arrondissement said.

“We have blocked all the entrances. We will stay there as long as possible.”

About 100 students blockaded the prestigious school. Some students chant slogans against the “Front National” – the former name of second-round candidate Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party.

The blockades ended peacefully at the end of the day.

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