The upper house of the French parliament has greenlighted a bill giving police broad powers to quell unrest. It comes as a rights watchdog warned of civil liberties being undermined in France due to crackdowns on protest.
Following hours of tense debate on Tuesday, the French Senate approved an anti-hooligan (‘anti-casseurs’) bill by a margin of 210 votes to 115.
The bill has courted widespread controversy, having been denounced as “liberticide” by the left, and hailed as a “the law of protections” by the French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
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The government insists that the legislation will allow to distinguish between law-abiding protesters and violent rioters, while providing protection for both law enforcement and Yellow Vest demonstrators. Speaking ahead of the vote on Tuesday, Castaner defended the bill, saying that it “safeguards the right to demonstrate,” while brushing off concerns that it encroaches on civil freedoms.
“This text does not include an ounce of arbitrariness,” he said.
His view has not been shared by many among the opposition.
Senator Jerome Durain of the center-left Socialist Party (PS) slammed the draft as “useless, imprecise and dangerous,” arguing that it will only foment the unrest.
“The dramatization of the situation does not serve anyone,” Durain said.
The bill, which was first introduced in parliament last year, has already received backing from the National Assembly, France’s lower house. While the National Assembly overwhelmingly supported the bill in February, the vote saw an unprecedented number of abstentions within French President Emmanuel Macron’s own La Republique En Marche (LREM) party. Some 50 LREM lawmakers chose not to approve the bill and one MP, Matthieu Orphelin, went as far as to desert the party ranks altogether in the wake of the vote.
Many took issue with the provisions of the bill that prohibit protesters from wearing masks at rallies and allow police to single out and ban certain “troublemakers” from attending the ‘acts.’
The Yellow Vest protests have been marred by violence from both sides.