A recent report by the human rights organization Amnesty International shows how French law and the practices of the authorities threaten people’s freedom of expression and assembly.

Amnesty criticizes France for having arrested and convicted protesters, journalists, first aid volunteers and human rights monitors in recent years for vague and ill-conceived articles.

According to the organization, in addition to laws restricting freedom of assembly, the French authorities have sought to extinguish the protests with unreasonable force.

Arbitrary arrests and convictions

In France, Amnesty estimates that more than 40,000 people have been convicted on flagrant terms between 2018 and 2019.

Among those convicted are protesters who have taken part in protests symbolized by the yellow vest that began in late 2018.

– Thousands of people have been punished for peaceful acts that should not be considered crimes. Many people interviewed by Amnesty have said that they are carefully considering participating in the protests because they are afraid of its consequences, Amnesty Finland’s expert Anu Tuukkanen notes.

Tuukkanen finds it ironic that it is France that criminalizes the demonstration.

– It is ironic that a country where the force for social change has such a long and glorious tradition criminalizes demonstrations, he says.

In France, the police can arrest a person for a crime that he or she has not committed, but which, according to the authority, he or she could commit in the future.

For example, the mere possession of goggles or a face mask has led to arrests because it has been deemed to indicate violent intentions. In April 2019, France banned face-covering in protests with the threat of imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 euros.

Amnesty has gathered evidence, for example, that people have also been arrested for holding signs. A woman was arrested while participating in yellow vest activities by filling balloons on French National Day.

According to Amnesty, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the situation in France.

France banned all demonstrations this spring because of the pandemic. Amnesty criticizes the ban as disproportionate and says it has resulted in hundreds of unfair fines.