Protesters clash with police as tens of thousands rally against state violence and a controversial bill that would restrict sharing images of law enforcement officers.

People gather in central Paris on November 28, 2020 for a demonstration against a new French law on global security.
People gather in central Paris on November 28, 2020 for a demonstration against a new French law on global security. (AFP)

Police and demonstrators have clashed in Paris as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest against a proposed law that would restrict sharing images of police, only days after the country was shaken by footage showing officers beating and racially abusing a Black man.

The demonstrations on Saturday took place nationwide with 46,000 people marching in Paris city. 

"Police everywhere, justice nowhere" and "police state" and "smile while you are beaten" were among the slogans brandished as protesters marched from Place de la Republique to the nearby Place de la Bastille.

Other carried placards with slogans like "Who will protect us from the police", "Stop police violence", and "Democracy bludgeoned".

"We have felt for a long time to have been the victim of institutionalised racism from the police," said Mohamed Magassa 35, who works in a reception centre for minors.

"But now we feel that this week all of France has woken up," he said.

"The fundamental and basic liberties of our democracy are being attacked —freedom of expression and information," added Sophie Misiraca, 46, a lawyer.

READ MORE: France: a police state?

Tensions in Paris

France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin condemned "unacceptable" violence against the police, saying 37 members of the security forces had been injured nationwide.

There were tensions in Paris as a car, newspaper kiosk, and brasserie were set on fire close to Place de la Bastille, police said. 

Some protesters threw stones at the security forces who responded by firing tear gas, an AFP correspondent said. 

Police complained that protesters were impeding fire services from putting out the blazes and said nine people had been detained by the early evening.

Violence erupted near the end of the march as small groups of protesters pelted riot police with small rocks and paving stone.

The officers retaliated with volleys of tear gas, prompting minor scuffles. Rioters then set fire to the facade of the central bank and to police barricades; in the melee fire trucks struggled to reach the site.

Thousands also took part in other marches in France, including in Bordeaux, Lille, Montpellier, and Nantes.

"I'm just waiting for the law to be withdrawn, said Adele Lequertier, a 22-year-old sociology student, who took part in the Montpellier march. 

READ MORE: 'Free-speech champion' France mulls ban on police images

Controversial bill 

The controversial bill, which was approved by the lower house of Parliament this week, still awaits a green light from the Senate.

One of the most controversial elements of the new law is Article 24, which would criminalise the publication of images of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their "physical or psychological integrity."

"This bill aims to undermine the freedom of the press, the freedom to inform and be informed, the freedom of expression," one of Saturday's protest organisers said.

Rally organisers have called for the article to be withdrawn, claiming that it contradicts the fundamental freedoms of the French republic.

Civil liberties groups and journalists are concerned that the measure will stymie press freedoms and allow police brutality to go undiscovered and unpunished.

READ MORE: Protesters rally in France against Macron's controversial bill

Documenting police brutality

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Friday that he would appoint a commission to redraft Article 24, but backtracked after anger from lawmakers. 

The commission is now expected to make new proposals by early next year on the relationship between the media and police.

Under the article, offenders could be sentenced to up to a year in jail, and fined $53,000 for sharing images of police officers.

The government says the provision is intended to protect officers from doxing and online abuse, but critics say it is further evidence of the Macron administration's slide to the right.

Media unions say it could give police a green light to prevent journalists —and social media users — from documenting abuses.

They point to the case of music producer Michel Zecler, whose racial abuse and beating at the hands of police was recorded by CCTV and later published online, provoking widespread criticism of the officers' actions.

READ MORE: French police arrest journalists at protest over proposed security law

Source: TRTWorld and agencies