France to reduce public freedoms rather than address issues

Written by on January 8, 2019

The Prime Minister of France, Edouard Philippe, has announced new plans to crack down harder on people involved in unauthorised protests. As well as this plan there are also moves to toughen punishments for rioting as a result of the ‘Gilet Jaunes’ protests against the government that began in November.

The move, which could be interpreted as a strong desire to return to law and order, seems little more than an effort to remove the protestors rather than address the issues that they raise, and thus remove the reasons for the protest in the first place.

Philippe has stated that it is necessary to ‘preserve the freedom’ for the French people to protest and that those who protest peacefully should not be punished. These two ideas do not seem to line up with each other when given any reflection.

If we look at the idea that ‘peaceful protestors’ should not be punished’ we can see from footage that has been uploaded to the internet (News coverage has been minimal at best, more on that later) we can see a number of examples of ‘peaceful protesters’ being arrested, sometimes violently, by the police. In a number of these incidents the protestors were kneeling and refusing to move, before the violent arrests.

So we follow the argument through that these people may have been breaking other laws. This is perhaps the case, with things like trespassing and possibly blocking the roads (I admit to not knowing what the French legal system is like, nor the laws surrounding the protests). However, regardless of what the law alleged to have been broken was we can see that if the police want to arrest you they will.

The idea of reducing protests to only those that are ‘authorised’ should be a huge red flag to anyone that is in anyway sceptical of the way governments treat the people of their countries. France has, of course, had protests before that have turned violent, riots, while not frequent, are known to occur. Whether it is the frequency of these with regards to the Gilet Jaunes protests, or the fact that they are highly anti-government could be considered. The question would have to be asked though, what would an ‘authorised’ protest on the same issues look like, and would it be authorised at all?

We have already seen a huge lack of coverage from the French news agencies surrounding these protests, as well as a host of ‘fake news’ stories regarding the issues being protested, even going so far as to deny that they were going on. Even in the UK the BBC were reported as planning to run stories on how these protests were organised, run or supported by Russia in order to downplay their legitimacy.

There have been a number of issues that have been laid out by the protestors that they are unhappy about. Policies that the government has the ability to affect, whether this comes in the form of wholesale change or improvements to the issues themselves. This does not seem to be the focus of the French government. Instead of acknowledging the issues that have been raised they would prefer to silence the voices that are raising them.

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