Four French police officers should face charges over the beating and racial abuse of a black music producer, Paris’s top prosecutor said yesterday, an incident that intensified controversy over a new security law.
The beating of music producer Michel Zecler – exposed in video footage published last week – has become a focus of anger against the police, who critics accuse of institutionalised racism and targeting black and Arab people.
Tens of thousands protested on Saturday – the rally in Paris ending in bitter clashes – against the security bill, which would restrict the right to publish images of on-duty police.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said all four officers investigated over the beating of Zecler should face charges, and called for three of them to be held in custody and be charged specifically with using racial abuse.
The case is now being handed to an investigating magistrate, who will have the final say on charges and detention measures.
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 an award-winning Syrian photojournalist, Ameer al-Halbi, 24, 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 yesterday (see accompanying report).
Police said that 62 officers were injured at the demonstrations and 81 people arrested, with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin saying that the violence in the protests was “unacceptable”.
The four officers have been questioned by the police’s
National Police Inspectorate General on suspicion of using violence and racial abuse.
Heitz said that three of the officers should remain in custody “to avoid the perpetrators communicating or (putting) pressure on witnesses”.
He called for charges of intentional violence, racial abuse and posting a false police report.
The fourth man, who arrived on the scene later and fired a tear gas canister, should be freed under conditions and charged with intentional violence, he said.
The four officers had a good service record before the incident, he said, and had claimed that they had acted “out of fear”.
Zecler had been stopped for not wearing a mask and because of a strong smell of cannabis.
But only a tiny quantity of the substance was found, he said.
Commentators say that the images of the beating – first published by the Loopsider news site – may never have been made public if the
contentious Article 24 of the security legislation was made law.
The bill would criminalise publishing images of on-duty police with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity”.
It was passed by the National Assembly although it is awaiting Senate approval.
The controversy over the
law and police violence is developing into another crisis for the government as President Emmanuel Macron confronts the pandemic, its economic fallout and a host of
problems on the international stage.
Macron said on Friday that the images of Zecler’s beating “shame us” and asked the French government to come up with proposals to “fight against discrimination”.
For critics, the legislation is further evidence of a slide to the right by Macron, who came to power in 2017 as a centrist promising liberal reform of France.
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