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France: Government sets up independent commission to examine controversial security law

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Police officers face demonstrators during a rally on the Place de La Republique, Tuesday, Nov.24, 2020 in Paris.
Police officers face demonstrators during a rally on the Place de La Republique, Tuesday, Nov.24, 2020 in Paris.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Michel Euler
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French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday evening that an independent commission is to examine the controversial global security law.

Article 24 of the proposed bill makes it illegal to share images of law enforcement officers for "malicious purposes" with anyone falling foul of it facing up to one year in prison and a €45,000 fine. But critics, including journalists and human rights groups, say it would curtail press freedom and lead to less police accountability.

The creation of the Commission was announced following a meeting between Castex and unions representing publishers and journalists' collectives including Reporters Without Borders.

It will be led by the head of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights and is "responsible for proposing to the national representation a new wording of article 24 in order to respect the objective pursued while dispelling any doubt about respect for the freedom to inform," the prime minister's office said in a statement.

"The prime minister reiterated that the government's intention has never been and never will be to undermine freedom of expression and the principles of the 1881 law" which safeguards press freedom in the country, it added.

The Commission is to present its report at the end of December.

The bill, approved by Parliament's lower house earlier this week, has already been amended once due to the outcry over it. Still, tens of thousands took to the streets over the weekend to denounce it.

It has also reignited a debate over police brutality and accountability, just as two such cases have grabbed headlines in recent days.

On Monday, images of police officers strong-arming migrants and throwing people out of their tents as they moved to dismantle an illegal camp in central Paris were described as "shocking" by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin who ordered the police inspector general to investigate "several unacceptable actions".

CCTV footage released on Thursday of a Black man being beaten by several officers for no apparent reason has also caused consternation.

Darmanin described the images as "unspeakable and unbearable" and ordered the suspension of three officers pending an investigation.