Feb 13th, 2019, 05:58 PM

Is the New Anti-Riot Law a Step Too Far?

By Seamus Malekafzali
A bank in Greece burns after being destroyed by rioters in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Wikimedia Commons/arpakola.
France's National Assembly has overwhelmingly passed a law targeting rioters with harsh penalties of jail time and fines.

By a vote of 387-92, despite opposition even from within Macron's own party, a controversial new bill targeting violent protesters passed through the National Assembly. Approved Tuesday, February 5, the bill is expected to pass through Senate in the coming days. The bill is aimed at "casseurs", a French term denoting a violent vandal during a protest and sometimes translated as "hooligan". The introduction of the bill was primarily sparked by the wide array of violence seen during the Gilets Jaunes protests that swept the French capital and the nation beginning in November of last year. 

Gilets Jaunes protesters guard themselves against police-thrown tear gas fire during a Saturday protest. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Patrice Calatayu.

Violence on both sides has become a hallmark of the Gilets Jaunes movement since it began last year. While 72% of French citizens said they were sympathetic to the protest movement, 85% of French people also said they disapproved of the violence, which saw cars overturnedshops looted, and police officers attacked with fire. The violence committed by the Gilets Jaunes protesters also sparked a 10,000-strong counter-protest by those calling themselves by the "Red Scarves"

Casseurs, most visibly anarchists and other anti-capitalists in black clothing colloquially known as the Black Bloc, have been a staple of protests in France, and to some extent, around the world, like Seattle and Washington D.C., therefore this new law is not wholly new or unexpected. Nevertheless, this law has been considered by Macron's many opponents as evidence of a growing police state in the country. The law is seen as adding on to the seeming impunity with which French police officers have been allowed to deal with Gilets Jaunes protesters in the past couple of months. 

So what exactly does this anti-rioter bill do that has caused so much vocal uproar in France's legislature, even from those within the ruling party?

French riot police in Pairs push back a crowd of Gilets Jaunes after fires were set. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Thomson.

Under this new law, if passed, anyone even suspected of being a casseur, without conviction, can be banned from protesting by the local prefect, a local official. This process can be run with no oversight from any judge. If they are found to be protesting after being designated on said list, they can be sentenced to 6-12 months in prison and a fine of 7,500-15,000 euros. While it should obviously be noted that casseurs and other violent rioters have never been granted any sort of impunity under the law, specific laws against them had been scrapped in the 1980s, after they were introduced following the 1968 protests that saw France on the precipice of another potential revolution.

The bill is expected to be voted on in the French Senate on March 12.