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French police officers to remain in custody over Black man's beating

08:30 30 November 2020 Author :  

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz says judicial authorities wanted to make sure that three police officers did not have any contact with one another and that they could not exert any pressure on witnesses.

 Three Paris police officers being held over the beating of a Black music producer during an arrest a week ago will remain in custody for now, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz has said.

Heitz told a press briefing on Sunday that judicial authorities wanted to make sure that the three did not have any contact with one another and that they could not exert any pressure on witnesses.

The minutes-long beating of producer Michel Zecler was recorded on CCTV and has been widely circulated on social media, sparking an outcry in the national and foreign press and demonstrations against police violence across the country on Friday and Saturday.

Shameful images

President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that the images were shameful for France.

Prosecutor Heitz said the officers would be charged with intentional violence with weapons, the use of racist language, falsifying police records, violation of a private home, and intentional damage to a private home.

A fourth police officer, who is not accused of taking part in the beating but of throwing a tear gas grenade into Zecler's music studio, would be suspended from active service and placed under judicial control, Heitz said.

The beating and racial abuse of Zecler shocked France and intensified controversy over new security legislation. 

It has become a rallying cause for anger against the police in France, accused by critics accuse of institutionalised racism including singling out Blacks and Arabs.

Massive protests 

Tens of thousands protested across France on Saturday against the security bill – which would restrict the right of the press to publish the faces of on-duty police – with the rally in Paris ending in bitter clashes.

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

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

Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, tweeted that the 24-year-old had been wounded at Place de la Bastille by "a police baton" and condemned the violence.

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

Police said 62 officers were injured at the demonstrations and 81 people arrested, with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin saying the violence in the protests was "unacceptable".

Authorities did not have a tally for the number of marchers injured, saying only that two people outside the capital had complained of police violence.

Crisis for Macron

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 law 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 Macron confronts the pandemic, its economic fallout, and a host of problems on the international stage.

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.

A series of high-profile cases against police officers over the mistreatment of black or Arab citizens has raised accusations of institutionalised racism. The force has insisted violations are the fault of isolated individuals.

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