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Why is France's new national security bill controversial?

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By Emma Beswick
A protester shouts during a demonstration security law that would restrict sharing images of police, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020 in Paris.
A protester shouts during a demonstration security law that would restrict sharing images of police, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020 in Paris.   -   Copyright  Francois Mori/AP
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Thousands of protesters gathered at demonstrations across France on Saturday to protest a controversial new bill that would ban police images and increase surveillance.

The legislation, which is pending in France's parliament, intends to protect police officers from online calls for violence, according to the government.

But it has drawn condemnation from civil rights activists and journalist groups, while France has recieved warnings from the EU and UN.

What does Article 24 stipulate?

The new article would amend current legislation to make it an offence to show the face or identity of any officer on duty "with the aim of damaging their physical or psychological integrity".

The offence would carry a prison sentence of up to one year and a maximum fine of €45,000.

The amendment to France's global security legislation was proposed in October by President Emmanuel Macron's La République En Marche! party and its ally, Agir.

The French parliament rejected a similar proposal earlier this year but the global security bill cleared the Assemblée Nationale's lower chamber on Tuesday.

Macron’s party has a majority in the National Assembly.

What are its critics saying?

The bill has been strongly criticised by journalists and rights groups who argue that it would curtail press freedom and lead to less police accountability.

Those opposed to the legislation are concerned that, if it is enacted, it risks endangering journalists and other onlookers who film officers at work, especially during violent protests.

They say documenting and sharing the actions of violent officers is essential in stopping future incidents of police brutality.

Critics are worried that courts would decide if images were shared online with "intent to harm" or not.

As well as this week's violent incident in Paris, three French officers were charged with manslaughter in July after the death Cedric Chouviat, a delivery driver, which onlookers filmed and shared.

Who has spoken out against the law?

NGOs including Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International France, and the Human Rights League, as well as trade unions representing journalists, were among those that encouraged people to go to the protests.

People turned out in their thousands in the capital of Paris on Saturday, with demonstrations taking place this weekend in other French cities including Nantes and Lyon.

Among the crowd in Paris were journalists and students. Members of the anti-government Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement were also reported to be in attendance.

The EU on Monday reminded France that journalists must be able to "work freely and in full security", warning that it will examine the country's controversial security bill to ensure it complies with EU laws.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' office and France’s own human rights ombudsman have also said the new article risks undermining fundamental rights.