PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday rejected accusations his government had taken an illiberal turn with a contested bill to protect police officers and a crackdown on Islamist groups.
The bill, which would have curbed the freedom to share images identifying police officers, a key plank in Macron’s plans to court right-wing voters by being tougher on law and order, had sparked outrage among journalists.
Asked in an interview by the Brut website about international media branding his police plans “illiberal”, Macron said: “Today, the situation is not satisfactory but, forgive me, that doesn’t make us an authoritarian state.”
“We’re not Hungary, Turkey or somesuch,” he said. “I can’t let it be said we’re reducing liberties in our country.”
Protests over the plans escalated after the release of video footage of a Black man being beaten up by three police officers inside his own music studio earlier this month.
Macron said what the three police officers did was unacceptable, but that it did not mean the force as a whole was inherently violent and racist.
Society has become more violent too, Macron said, and police had also been injured in clashes, including in Paris.
“A policewoman was beaten up by protesters there. If you don’t look at society in its entirety, you’re not being fair,” Macron said.
Macron said he had felt let down by Western governments and intellectuals after French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by a Muslim 18-year-old because he had shown cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in class.
Following Paty’s murder Macron pledged to stand firm against assaults on French values and his government launched investigations into mosques suspected of fomenting Islamist ideology – triggering anti-French protests in some Muslim countries and some criticism in the West.
“France was attacked because it defended freedom of speech,” Macron said. “We were very lonely.”
(Additional reporting by Caroline Pailliez, Bertrand Boucey, Matthieu Protard and Geert de Clercq; writing by Michel Rose; Editing by Andrew Heavens)