Place de la République in Paris looked like a battlefield on November 28 (local time), the first day when the one-month-long COVID-19 lockdown was lifted. Stones and tear gas were exchanged between protestors loudly asking, “if France is an authoritarian country,” and the police. The area looked chaotic as protestors destroyed security cameras installed on streets and set cars on fire. Over 100,000 people came out to protest across the country, including Lyon and Marseille, on the same day.
The “global security law” proposed by the French government is what has caused this. It criminalizes the publishing of identifiable images of police officers online. Anyone found guilty could be sentenced to up to a year in jail, and fined 45,000 euros. The bill was passed by the National Assembly on November 24 under the leadership of the French government.
The French press and social organizations opposed, saying that the bill will violate the freedom of expression and increase the abuse of power. As it was reported that three police officers were beating a black man for not wearing a mask on November 21, protests against the new security law spread like wildfire across the nation.
The foreign press focused on the issues of the new law. I also wanted to cover the issue and focus on the problems of the law. However, I was met with a surprise that quite a lot of people agree with the law. “There must be a lot more cases where police officers on duty are exposed to violence than the vice versa,” said Clement, a business owner. “The cases where police officers whose pictures have been exposed on social media are targeted.”
A growing number of police officers make extreme choices due to stress and trauma experienced on duty. An average of 50 police officers committed suicide per year over the last 10 years, which is 36 percent higher than the non-police officers’ suicide rate. “If the precondition of the punishment, which is that images are published ‘with the intent to cause harm,’ it will bring positive impact,” said Louis, an office worker.
There is criticism against French President Emmanuel Macron for his impatience causing more social conflicts despite the fact that such conflicts could have been reduced if the law was proposed after taking time to listen to the pro and against sides. President Macron was elected in 2017 for his moderate stance. According to polling company IFOP’s survey results in October, however, his approval ratings are only between 23 to 26 percent while Marine Le Pen, the president of the far-right National Rally party, has 24 to 27 percent approval ratings if a presidential election is to be held right at the moment.
With less than a year and a half remaining until the next presidential election in April 2022, a series of terror attacks, economic slowdown due to COVID-19, and immigration issues combined are driving up the approval ratings of far-right or populist politicians. President Macron is under criticism for pursuing extreme right-wing policies, such as the security law, to win right-wing voters.
Examples where political intentions come before policies or systems leading to more division without what truly matters have been repeated across the world. Fortunately, France has belatedly chosen mediation. The National Assembly decided to revise the global security law. I hope that the incident has brought implications for societies struggling with policies solely based on political purposes.
Youn-Jong Kim firstname.lastname@example.org