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POLICE VIOLENCE

Beating of black man fires up French anger over law to protect police

Left wing French media outlets dedicate their front pages to the beating of 41-year-old Michel Zecler.
Left wing French media outlets dedicate their front pages to the beating of 41-year-old Michel Zecler. © Fotomontagem RFI

A widely shared video of French police violently beating a black man in Paris has bolstered criticism of a new security bill that seeks to restrict the publication of images of police on duty. 

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Several officers were suspended on Thursday and an internal police inquiry was opened after 41-year-old Michel Zecler, a music producer, suffered injuries to his face, head, forearms and knees.

The incident, which was captured on both closed-circuit television and mobile phone, took place late Saturday afternoon – attracting massive attention when it was published by the online news site Loopsider

Zecler told journalists he was set upon by police at the entrance of his music studio, Black Gold, in Paris’s 17th arrondissement, after he was spotted in the street without a face mask – against health regulations.

'Racial slurs'

The well-known producer of rap said he was physically and racially attacked by three officers after trying to enter the studio. He admits resisting arrest, but says he made no violent gestures.

Video footage of the 7-minute beating – which has already been viewed 9 million times – is consistent with Zecler’s story, and at odds with a police report claiming the incident involved “a serious case of rebellion”.

Zecler was taken into custody, and held for 48 hours, as part of an investigation for "violence against a person holding public authority" and "rebellion". 

Following the release of the video, however, the Paris Public Prosecutor's Office closed that investigation and opened a new one for "violence by persons holding public authority" and "forgery of public records".

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told France 2 television the officers had “sullied the uniform of the republic”, adding that he would demand they be sacked if the probe confirmed wrongdoing by police.

France has recently seen a string of high-profile probes into police violence and racism. On Monday, Paris prosecutors also opened an investigation into the violent evacuation of a migrant camp in central Paris.

Contentious security bill 

These latest incidents, both brought to light by video footage, comes amid debate over a new bill that prohibits the publication of online images that identify individual police in action.  

On Wednesday parliament approved the legislation, which would impose prison sentences of up to one-year and a 45,000 euro fine for anyone caught unloading such content “with the obvious goal of inflicting physical or psychological harm”.

The move has prompted protests from civil liberties groups, journalists and others – who argue the language is too vague and open to interpretation.

In response, Darmanin said the “vast majority” of police officers acted professionally, with less than 10,000 incidents reported each year, out of some three million police operations. 

 

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