French interior minister Gérald Darmanin has called on police to reinforce protection for elected officials from President Emmanuel Macron's ruling LREM party. MPs have increasingly become targets for insults and threats, in the lead up to the debate over the government's proposal to transform the Covid health pass into a vaccine pass.
In his message addressed to police chiefs across France during the week, the interior minister Gérald Darmanin called for MPs' offices and homes to be systematically added to regular police patrols.
According to the letter, Darmanin warned that the current parliamentary debate concerning the transformation of the Covid health pass into vaccine pass could "provoke threats or actions against elected officials".
Several MPs from president Emmanuel Macron's ruling LREM party have been targeted in recent days.
Pascal Bois – a LREM member from the Oise region north of Paris – saw his car damaged in a fire started in his home on Wednesday. Walls nearby were tagged with the words "Vote No" and "Something's going to explode".
Yaël Braun-Pivet, in charge of the law committee, received a menacing message on Wednesday as the parliamentary debate about the vaccine pass got underway.
"Your life as a puppet is under threat. If you don't vote no on this bill, France will remember the national assembly as a great blood bath where the bodies of those who thought they governed us lie."
In the central Isère region, three MPs from LREM were threatened in November.
One of them, Cendra Motin, described the situation as similar to what happened at the height of the "Yellow Vest" anti-government protests.
"I found myself at roadblocks next to very angry people, but even then, I never felt physically threatened in the way I do now. There is no dialogue possible, unlike with the Yellow Vests with whom we could talk."
Ludovic Mendes, an LREM member in eastern Moselle who was recently threatened with decapitation, said he was very concerned that the lead up to presidential elections could be a very violent and stressful period.
"I'm afraid that this campaign will go badly, we've already seen violence at some rallies. People no longer tolerate each other, they don't respect each other."
President of the national assembly and LREM member Richard Ferrand told RTL on Thursday that he would hold a special meeting in January to discuss the issue alongside Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti.
The objective would be to take stock of the situation and check that all complaints filed were fully followed up "because people who committed violent acts or threats must obviously be punished," he said.
"We often have the impression that punishments are not as swift as we could hope for. Even if everyone is tense after what we've been through these last two years, any form of violence, threats or pressure is unacceptable," Ferrand said.
Earlier, in July, a handful of anti-vaxx protesters broke into Ferrand's office in Châteaulin (Finistère), western France before being chased away by police.
At the time he filed a legal complaint on behalf of MPs who had received death threats related to the vaccination campaign and the fact that the health pass became mandatory in certain public places.
Gérald Darmanin wrote to police chiefs on 16 July to reinforce security for elected officials in the face of anti-vaccination and anti-health pass protests which were held at weekly intervals over the summer.
Several vaccination centres were also vandalised at the time.