French police brutality against peaceful protesters

French police brutality against peaceful protesters

Police in the French capital has attacked yellow vest protesters marking the fourth anniversary since the iconic movement made global headlines by hitting the streets every Saturday despite a violent police crackdown.

French police brutality against peaceful protesters – Demonstrators have gathered in Place de la Bourse and marched towards Place Anne-Marie Carriere, this time protesting over a wide range of issues including the cost of living crisis coupled with an energy crisis in the country.

Videos have gone viral on different social media platforms appearing to show the police hitting protesters with batons and using tear gas to disperse the rallies on Saturday.

Over the past several months, France has been rocked by a series of strike actions after trade unions called for a mass walkout over pay and inflation, presenting President Emmanuel Macron with one of his biggest challenges since his reelection in May.

The yellow vest movement was a spontaneous social revolt that erupted in late 2018 when people across France marched in opposition to a new fuel tax introduced by the government.

The high-visibility jackets were worn in solidarity with truck drivers, who must wear yellow vests when traveling to the port of their destination and started the initiative.

The protests quickly morphed into a widespread national protest movement in opposition to Macron’s austerity measures, which protesters say favor only the rich and bring severe financial hardship to the rest of the population.

Every Saturday, they held and continue to hold protests in city centers. At times hundreds of thousands of people participated in the weekly demos, marching across France.

But it quickly turned ugly as French police and other security forces were condemned by rights groups and other countries for their violent crackdown on the protesters.

Many were hit in the eye with a rubber bullet fired from an LBD 40 gun, frequently used by the French police, despite the fact that it is forbidden in France to aim at someone’s head with such a gun.

The use of the gun is banned in Austria, Ireland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the U.K., and authorized in only two out of Germany’s 16 states.

Since late 2018, such bullets have been regularly used by the French police alongside GLI-F4 grenades (each of which contains 25 grams of TNT) and tear gas. These types of weapons, in addition to the use of batons to beat up the protesters, have caused a staggering number of life-altering or serious injuries among protesters

In the first year of the protests alone, it was documented that at least 315 French people had sustained injuries to the head, resulting in a fractured skull or jaw for some of them; at least 25 protesters lost an eye; five of their hand; and one woman died of injuries caused by a grenade.

Also in the first year of the protests alone, from November 2018 to February 2019, in total, 8,400 arrests related to the yellow vest demonstrations were made by French police, with many videos emerging online showing the violent nature of the arrests and 7,500 of those arrests resulted in police custody. According to government figures, 1,700 protesters had been injured during the first year of demonstrations. Activists have noted this number is much higher.

The movement and the ability to document figures such as arrests, injuries, and numbers of protesters was difficult to obtain during the Covid pandemic.

Apart from shedding light on the financial struggle of the French population before the current rising inflation made matters even worse, over the years of its existence, the yellow vest movement also displayed how many grievances the French people have with the government over a host of issues.

But what attracted the most headlines that reports focused on and highlighted was the excessive and unprecedented use of force being used against the peaceful protesters by French police and other armed forces.

There have been documented occurrences of police brutality and violence, which critics argue were authorized and given unconditional approval by the state. This essentially granted French police virtual impunity.

At almost all the protests that followed and later subsided amid the pandemic, clouds of tear gas and gunshots or grenade explosions were heard everywhere, with protesters saying the prospect of fracturing a skull or losing an eye was scaring people away from protesting peacefully.

Apart from the yellow vests, teachers, farmers, lawyers, students, and hospital staff all have marched recently to protest their own working and living conditions.

A spokesperson for a group called ‘Mutilated as an Example’ which accuses the French authorities of police brutality says “we want the state to recognize what they have done; they have injured protesters in the flesh. We were injured by the French state.”

Authorities at the governmental level as well as senior police authorities say the use of force was necessary as protesters had caused damage to public property.

However, they have stayed silent from acknowledging their own violent practices, including their role in life-altering injuries. With state impunity there has not been any energy to lodge complaints as some reporters who sustained injuries had done, only to receive an email saying their case had been closed.

Macron continued to claim that protesters had damaged public property saying “don’t speak of ‘repression’ or ‘police violence,’ these words are unacceptable under the rule of law,”.

Former French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe had described the protesters as “thugs”, despite authorities acknowledging that teachers, farmers, lawyers, students, hospital staff, and workers from many other sectors have all joined the yellow vest protesters.

After every weekly Saturday march, videos, photos, and testimonies of new injuries appeared online. Many provided evidence that contradicted the government’s main line of defense: that the police only responded with violence to protesters who had preemptively been violent.

One peaceful and prominent yellow vest figure was among the many that have been indefinitely blinded in the eye by a gunshot at him. Only on this occasion, did he live-stream the march on social media, contradicting government claims.

It later emerged that many of the injured were not even taking part in a protest when the police weapons targeted them.

As this police culture of using brutal violence to crack down on the protesters’ marches expanded, it also spread to other social movements and democratic institutions as well.

There was so much panic reported among ralliers after the police trapped participants of the unions’ traditional May Day march in a “hoop net”; peaceful climate activists were soaked with tear gas; journalists were arrested under suspicion of “political activism” and had their phones confiscated for authorities review their sources.

When the yellow vest marked the movement’s one-year anniversary one protester told the media “to have lasted a year in front of such repression is a victory, but many have stopped coming to the weekly marches because they are afraid. The police, the government, have succeeded in scaring” many of them away.

As police brutality gained global attraction, authorities went after journalists and camera crew who were capturing the incidents of police violence at the marches.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on the French authorities to take urgent measures to end the disturbing number of acts of police aggression against journalists.

This included the abuse of authority, humiliation, insults, threats, baton blows, and the firing of flash ball rounds during the yellow vest protests.

The early figures compiled by RSF were still provisional, but after six months the organization says the scale of the abuses was unprecedented.

At least 54 journalists had been injured by the police – 12 of them in serious condition – in 120 incidents registered by RSF’s staff in the six months since the first yellow vest protest on 17 November 2018.

Reporters Without Borders said these are all incidents involving journalists whose professional status the organization itself had been able to verify. Dozens of other incidents reported on social networks were still being checked.

In that same six-month time frame, according to RSF, at least 42 journalists sustained minor injuries, including bruising from baton blows or flash ball rounds fired at their legs, and burns from stun grenades. Twelve sustained serious injuries including hand fractures, broken ribs, and facial injuries.

The photographer Nicolas Descottes was off work for 40 days because of the flash ball round that shattered his cheekbone and “miraculously spared” his eye, the International NGO reported.

RSF said it regarded 88 of the 120 registered incidents as “major.” This category, according to the NGO, includes incidents in which journalists were injured, their equipment was deliberately destroyed, or they were subjected to intense intimidation, and incidents in which journalists clearly identified as members of the “press” were targeted with water canon or flash ball rounds or were forcibly driven back by means of riot shields or tear-gas.

“Cases in which photographers were taken into police custody were also included. Insults, verbal threats, and confiscation of material were treated as minor incidents.”

Photographers and video reporters paid the highest price with 66% of the journalists who had been the victims of police violence being photographers and 21% being cameramen or video reporters.

According to RSF, these high percentages were not due solely to the fact that they have to expose themselves more in order to get their story. “You see at least one example of police regulations being violated at every protest,” said a journalist who broadcasts the demonstrations live on a social media platform. “Arrests are sometimes carried out in a very violent manner and it’s not surprising that they want to prevent us from filming that.”

Aside from the deliberate intention to prevent certain incidents from being photographed or filmed, many of the incidents are due to a “failure to differentiate” between protesters and journalists.

In the city of Toulouse, several journalists reported that police on motorcycles “indiscriminately beat everyone they find in their path,” as one put it. “We are clearly identified and we are usually in a different location,” [from the protests] another reporter told the organization.

source

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