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30.11.2020 Europe

Four French police officers charged over beating, abuse of black man

By Michael Fitzpatrick - RFI
© (AP / TLS)
LISTEN NOV 30, 2020
© (AP / TLS)

Four French police officers have been charged in connection with the beating and racial abuse of a black man, a judicial source has revealed, days after the attack in Paris that intensified controversy over a new security law.

The beating of Michel Zecler -- exposed in video footage published last week -- has become a focus of anger against the police, accused by critics of institutionalised racism and targeting black and Arab people.

An investigating magistrate early on Monday morning charged three of the officers with "willful violence by a person holding public authority" and "forgery", a judicial source told the French AFP press agency.

The forgery charges relate to the alleged falsification of the official report on the incident.

The fourth man, who arrived on the scene later and fired a tear gas canister, has been charged with intentional violence.

Two were kept behind bars, while the other two were put on conditional release, the source added.

On Sunday Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz had called for the officers to be charged specifically with racial abuse.

Ahead of the charges, the four officers were questioned by the National Police Inspectorate General on suspicion of using violence and racial abuse.

Heitz said three of the officers should remain in custody "to avoid the perpetrators communicating or putting pressure on witnesses".

Paris protests end in bitter clashes

Tens of thousands of people protested on Saturday against the security bill, which would restrict the right to publish images of on-duty police. The rally in Paris ended in bitter clashes.

The protests in Paris saw a brasserie set alight, cars torched and stones thrown at security forces, who responded with tear gas and anti-riot tactics.

Among those hurt was the award-winning Syrian photojournalist, Ameer al-Halbi, seen with a bruised face and much of his head covered in bandages in AFP photos.

Al-Halbi is a freelance photographer who has worked for Polka Magazine and AFP, who both condemned the incident in statements Sunday.

"We are shocked by the injuries suffered by our colleague Ameer al-Halbi and condemn the unprovoked violence," said Phil Chetwynd, AFP's global news director, demanding that the police investigate the incident.

Al-Halbi was unable to get to hospital for several hours, and said he was reminded of being in the Syrian civil war in his hometown.

"It was Aleppo that came back to me last night," he said.

Darmanin deplores violence

Police said 81 people were arrested at the protests, with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin saying the violence was "unacceptable".

In a tweet, Darmanin said 98 police officers had been hurt during the protests, adding: "Those behind the violence will be pursued."

The controversy over the law, which has passed parliament and is now before the Senate, and police violence is developing into another crisis for the government as President Emmanuel Macron confronts the Covid pandemic, its economic fallout and a host of problems on the international stage.

Macron has said that the images of Zecler's beating "shame us" and asked the French government to come up with proposals to "fight against discrimination".

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