Several demonstrations were banned in Paris in May, and the National Assembly voted to establish a parliamentary commission to investigate “small groups and perpetrators of violence during demonstrations.” Such actions were seen as a violation of the rule of law and democracy.
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According to Olivier Cahn, professor of criminal law at the University of Cergy in Paris and researcher at the Center for Sociological Research on Law and Criminal Institutions, the Ministry of the Interior, by issuing top-down and a priori bans on demonstrations, is acting contrary to the law.
“The bans on demonstrations are at least surprising because the principle of freedom to demonstrate was enshrined in French law by a decision of the Constitutional Council in 1995. The ban by the Ministry of the Interior raises questions: how to define what belongs to, for example, the far right or the ultra-right?
These concepts have a political character but lack legal meaning. The ban is also inconsistent with the principle of the right to demonstrate as enshrined in the Constitution and international treaties to which France is a signatory, including the European Convention on Human Rights,” explains Cahn.
“The European Court of Human Rights clearly states that public authorities must guarantee the right to demonstrate, even when the demonstrations promote disturbing or shocking ideas. And yes, for example, demonstrations by the French far right, unlike the far left, take place peacefully, as we have seen in recent months,” adds the researcher.
Professor Cahn reminds that in France, there is no system of administrative permits for demonstrations; there is only an obligation for organizers to declare their intentions, which must be submitted three to fifteen days before the planned demonstration, and agree on the route of the march. However, this declaration is not a condition for obtaining permission.
“The Minister of the Interior, who must uphold the rule of law, asks his subordinate prefects to make decisions that will mostly be illegal,” emphasizes the expert.
When asked about covering one’s face during demonstrations, Cahn considers it illegal. “The task of the police is to ensure compliance with the law and to prevent the destruction that the far left engages in during demonstrations against pension reform. However, demonstrations cannot be prohibited, only properly secured. That is the role of the police and security services,” summarizes the expert.