As much police violence in France in past two months as in previous two years
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for a strong political, administrative and judicial response to the surge in police violence against journalists in France. Reporters covering the current wave protests – mainly against pension reform – have been subjected to almost as much police violence during the past two months as during the previous two years.
Since early March, when Parliament approved the retirement reform, RSF has registered almost as many cases of police violence (15) as during the years 2021 et 2022 together (16). Most of these cases occurred during the protests against raising the retirement age but some were also reported during a demonstration by environmentalists in Sainte-Soline, in western France, on 25 March and during the May Day demonstrations.
There has also been a shift in the source of the violence against reporters at protests. During the previous two years, demonstrators or violent individuals were responsible for most of the cases (70% in 2021 and 81% in 2022) but, since the start of 2023, the police have been responsible for 63% of the cases. Although clearly identifiable, reporters were hit with batons, jammed against the ground or directly targeted by teargas or stun grenades.
Some journalists have been injured in the police violence. One of the most serious cases is that of Paul Boyer. The bones of one of his hands were crushed and he sustained a head trauma as a result of an intervention by the BRAV riot police during a demonstration in Paris on 23 March although he was easily identifiable as a reporter.
Many reporters have also been insulted, obstructed or subjected to intimidation by police, sometimes in an attempt to deter them from working. In Rennes, Hans Lucas agency photographer Anna Margueritat said a police officer aimed his “defensive ball” launcher at her face. For simply reporting a dangerous practice, she was then threatened with arrest on a charge of “contempt” for the authorities.
“The past two months’ violations are chilling. We urge the interior minister to issue a new official and solemn reminder to the police of their obligation to protect journalists and their rights in accordance with the provisions of the National Law Enforcement Plan (SNMO). We also call on administrative and judicial authorities to prosecute the perpetrators of police violence and to not allow flagrant violations of the right to inform to go unpunished.
At RSF’s request, interior minister Gérald Darmanin issued a reminder about the SNMO’s provisions in a memo on 21 April, in which he referred to “the special place of journalists within these demonstrations.” But new incidents have been reported since then.
Several journalists who were clearly identified as members of the “Press” were the targets of violence during the May Day protests. They included Brut’s Rémy Buisine, who was hit with a baton and then kicked while on the ground after being knocked down by a shield, and Marc Chaumeil, a photojournalist who was hit and thrown to the ground and whose equipment was badly damaged.
Arbitrary arrests (which are not included in the police violence figures cited above) are also on the rise. At least five journalists have been arrested since the start of the year. They include Radio BIP / Média25 journalist Toufik-de-Planoise, who was held for nine hours on 26 April after photographing protesters on a railway line in Besançon, and Clément Baudet, who was held for 28 hours following his arrest on 26 March on the grounds that he bore the traces of a coded marking product fired by police during the clashes in Sainte-Soline.
The police violence has had a lasting impact on journalists and the coverage of protests. Laure Solé, a Rue89Lyon reporter who was manhandled and clubbed, did not hide her concern. “Although we are recognisable by all our equipment, including in a crowd, the police seem happy to make less and less distinction,” she said, deciding not to cover the next protest.
She is not alone. Other journalists, including Adrien Adcazz, a freelancer who had to undergo an operation after a fragment from a stingball grenade pierced his leg at Sainte-Soline, are also wondering whether or not they will continue covering protests.
Since 2019, RSF has filed more than 20 judicial complaints with the aim bringing the perpetrators of this arbitrary violence to justice and enforcing the rights of journalists mentioned in the SNMO.
France is ranked 24th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index.