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Govt pledges to rewrite controversial security bill amid huge protests across France

PARIS, France: The French government is planning to rewrite part of a controversial security bill amid national outrage over a police assault on a black man.

There were huge protests across France on Saturday against Article 24 of the bill, which aims to regulate how people share film or photos of police.

There are fears the new law could stop people from exposing police brutality.

Four policemen are now under criminal investigation over the beating of black music producer Michel Zecler in Paris.

The assault happened at his studio earlier this month and the video surfaced last week.

Christophe Castaner, the head of President Emmanuel Macron’s group of centrist MPs in parliament, said Article 24 “will be completely rewritten and a new version will be submitted”.

“We know that doubts persist about it,” the ex-interior minister explained, “while we can never tolerate any reduction of press freedom or images.

“Article 24 would not have affected in any way the spread of those images we’ve seen in recent days,” he added.

Advocates say the article – passed by the lower house last week – will protect police from harassment and targeting on social media.

But critics say media freedom and citizens’ right to film police action must not be impeded, as the French police are now under intense scrutiny for alleged racism.

Anger over the bill escalated into clashes with police in Paris on Saturday.

The four police suspects in the Zecler case are facing charges of “intentional violence by a person holding authority”, judicial sources told French media on Monday. Two have been remanded in custody.

CCTV footage published by the news website Loopsider on Thursday shows Zecler being kicked and punched for several minutes by three officers at his Paris studio on November 21.

A fourth is later seen throwing a tear gas canister into the building. The incident reportedly began with a dispute over whether the 41-year-old producer was wearing a face mask, as required during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Zecler, who needed stitches, says he was also racially abused during the attack. In addition to the “intentional violence” charge, all four officers are accused of forgery. That charge relates to the police report filed after the incident, which said “a strong smell of cannabis” had emanated from Zecler and that he resisted a search.

At the weekend, prosecutors said the officers had admitted that their violence against Mr Zecler was unjustified but said they acted out of panic after he resisted them in the cramped surroundings of the studio entrance.

The prosecutors said three of the policemen should be remanded into custody to stop any attempt to co-ordinate their stories. But the judge said only two would remain in detention.

Stars of France’s victorious World Cup football team are among a number of public figures who have expressed anger over the footage.

President Emmanuel Macron described the incident as “unacceptable” and “shameful”, demanding quick government proposals on how to rebuild trust between police and citizens.

President Macron is said to be furious at the way his government has handled the row over the security bill.

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