08:26, January 31 111 0 theguardian.com

2019-01-31 08:26:13
French MPs condemn authoritarian plans to curtail gilets jaunes protests

French politicians have approved controversial measures to ban what the government calls “brute” troublemakers from street demonstrations as gilets jaunes (yellow vests) anti-government protests enter their 12th week.

There were tense and heated exchanges in parliament late on Wednesday night, including from rebels within Emmanuel Macron’s own centrist party, as deputies backed giving regional prefects – local state security officials – the power to ban people presumed to be violent from taking part in demonstrations.

Deputies on the left and some on the centre said the measures posed an “authoritarian” threat to civil liberties.

The most controversial measure in the bill – which angered some rebels in the French president’s party – means that individuals deemed to represent a “particularly serious” threat to public order will be prevented from taking part in street protests. Their names will be added to a special police file. Any person presumed to have been involved in violence in previous demonstrations can be banned from street protests, but they don’t need to have been previously convicted. Regional prefects, rather than judges, will have new powers to impose the ban.

There will also be a new crime of covering your face during a street demonstration – whether with a helmet, mask or scarf – punishable by a fine of €15,000 (£13,117) or a prison sentence.

The measures are an attempt by the government to crack down on violence on the edges of gilets jaunes demonstrations in cities such as Paris and Bordeaux, in which cars and shops were smashed and torched, monuments like the Arc de Triomphe vandalised and police attacked.

But some MPs, even within the ruling La République En Marche party, warned the law threatened French people’s constitutional right to demonstrate in the street. “Who are we to protect the state of law if we’re weakening its essential and fundamental principles?” asked one MP from Macron’s party.

Some politicians said the new law could be abused if a far-right party came to power in the future.

Charles de Courson, from the centrist UDI party, told parliament the law was extremely dangerous. He said: “It’s as if we’re back under the Vichy regime [the Nazi-collaborationist regime of the 1940s]. You’re presumed to be a résistant so we throw you in prison. Wake up! Wake up, colleagues! … The day you have a different government in power – a far-right government – and you’re in opposition, you’ll see that it’s pure madness to vote for this text.”

Macron’s interior minister Christophe Castaner argued that “a small minority of brutes” were “threatening, targeting and attacking” during demonstrations and they had “a thirst for chaos” that must be stopped.

The full law will be voted on in parliament next week.

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